Saturday, 30 May 2009

Alexandria, VA

There’s just nothing like reuniting with old friends.  The taxi drops you off at the front door and you pick right up where you left off.  Someone to laugh at even the stupidest of your jokes.  Who chuckles at your silly dances.  Knows you love margaritas.  Picks up blue corn chips at the store to have waiting for you.  

Old friends who sit on back porches--no matter where in the world the back porch sits.  Talking, praying, laughing, or crying.  Pontificating.  Listening.  Asking the hard questions and knowing when to just leave you be.  Recommending good books and stupidly hilarious movies.  Challenging your thinking.  Expecting your best and accepting you in your worst.  

Outdoor cafes line the side walk of the small Virginia town where they live.  Shorts and sundresses the uniform of the patrons.  Pitchers of sangria and margaritas the size of your head.  The parks are full of dozens of strollers toting sun-hatted cutie pies with sippy cups and sleepy chubby cheeks.  Flower beds are filled with elephant-eared hostas and waxy leafed day lilies, variegated grasses and a star-flowered tree I don’t recognize but instantly love.  

The Dairy Godmother on the main street serves up ‘nostalgic treats,’ and I feel like I’ve been enjoying them everyday since I got here.  This little town takes me back to my Oklahoma childhood.  Old school houses with front porches.  Porch swings and gliding chairs with people actually sitting in them!  Flowering trees and fresh-cut grass that smells to my heart like bike rides and ice cream trucks.  

The air is sticky and damp.  The rain comes down warm and it makes me want to run outside in my swimming suit to make stick-dams in the gutter.  Laughing and splashing and then wrapping up in towels on the front porch and eating popsicles when it cools down.  I find myself going barefoot and wishing to goodness I could do it every day of my life.  

We eat hamburgers and kick-ass french fries.  Guacamole and homemade salsa (with the yummy blue corn chips!)  Tacos and sodas and Heinz catchup.  I have a Dr. Pepper for old times sake.

People say “good mornin’” and “how you doin’?” and “nice day, isn’t it?” and it almost makes me cry with relief.  These too, these smells, and sounds and foods and spoken phrases are like old friends.  I say, “Well, thank you!  How you?” and “Sure is a gorgeous day we’re havin’!” and it feels like picking up right where I left off.  

Monday, 18 May 2009

Swimming Lessons

Smooth and slow strokes, Bridge. Smoooooooth and sloooooooow. When you jump into the pool and panic, your lungs go ‘CCCCRRRRRRKKKK’ and you can’t breath! The dog paddling takes you forever to get where you’re going. If you can relax, go smooth and slow, you actually get there quicker!

So as soon as we got home I was freaking out. Okay, truthfully I started freaking out in a little square in Barcelona over tapas. Realizing the postcards had not/would not get written let alone sent before we headed out. The weight of preparing to go Stateside descended. Visions of the mountains of laundry dominating my thoughts. “Four weeks away from Scotty” blinking like an obnoxious neon sign in my not-so-subconscious. So I did what any normal person would do—I started dog paddling like mad.

Me: Good one! Did you notice that? You got there so much quicker that time!
B: Yeah, cause I started to dog paddle and I just thought, ‘Relax! Slow and smooth, slow and smooth, slow and smooth.’

I did laundry all day. Load after load. One right after the other. Tying up loose ends on the computer. Once in a while trying to escape into the world of facebook and then beating myself up for it. I vacuumed. I straightened. I was a tight, angry ball.
I went to see my osteopath for an adjustment. He said my body was really tired. He asked me if I noticed that I was flinching every time he moved my muscles. Said it seemed like, “Mum’s not taking good care of herself.” He was right and I felt my shoulders lifted in a tight ‘shrug’ like I was bracing myself for something.
I fought with Scott. I told him the weight of the world was on my shoulders. We made a list of what specifically I did feel was on my shoulders, and I was astounded and embarrassed and frustrated with myself—somehow I really had taken the weight of the world on my shoulders. The number and magnitude of the things I was carrying? Goodness. It’s a wonder I could stand up.
We manage to get everything but the socks and underwear packed before bed but still the next morning I was exhausted. Angry. Sad.

B: Mom, I’m going to swim all the way to the other side this time! I can do it!
Halfway over he stops and panics and swims to where I am standing. Spluttering for just a second. Then he says: “I just needed a little break!” as he heads to the other side.

We wake up to little boys snuggling in our bed. Scott sends them to play and holds me tight. I am tight. Distant. He persists. He makes gently makes me look him in the eye. He smoothes out the furrows between my eyebrows with his fingers. I splutter. I move my arms and legs fast. I’m getting nowhere. He holds tighter. He nuzzles me and hugs me. I try smooth. I embrace slow. We make love and all of the sudden I can breath.
I come downstairs and we listen to the Valentines 2009 mix. I cry. I’m going to miss him so much. It occurs to me how blessed I am to feel that way and how much hard work and perseverance got us to that place.

B: I did it! Smooth and slow just like you said! Did you see me?!?! I got ALL THE WAY to the other side! I am awesome!

We quick get dressed and head into the city. There’s nearly a hiccup—several lines of the tube aren’t running. And we flounder around. I find myself spluttering. Then I relax. Smooth. Slow. We go outside. We grin at each other. “Want to figure out how to ride the bus in this city?” It’s great fun. Orienting. Out in the open. We can breath.
We have an old school Children’s Book Store date. Bridger and Caid are excellent additions to the ritual. We visit Borough Market—my favorite London place. We eat yummy treats and walk around in the scads of people. We go home and play baseball. We read Winnie the Pooh. We pack. We go to bed late.
The next morning on the way to the airport Scott says, “I think you’re going to need to get up every morning and decide not to carry anything that is not yours. There will be plenty to pick up. You go three days of picking stuff up and you’re going to be a wreck.”

Smooth and slow. If you can just relax…you actually get there quicker.

Barcelona Highlights Days 3-5

Day 3
Playing in the sand with sand toys and plastic bags (who knew they could be such perfect sand tools!).
Eating avocados with our fingers and no knife.
The boys running through the showers instead of swimming at the first beach because the waves were too strong.
“Laps” as Bridger called them into and out of the sea over and over again holding hands (at the second beach).
La Fonda again for dinner with yummy Prosecco, paella, doting waiters and the bonus of an unexpected evening with Scott!

Day 4
Churros and chocolate.
Mercat de la Boqueria again for breakfast.
Tummy aches and subsequent naps at the hotel.
Rallying and heading back out.
The Teleferic! A gondola ride the boys were totally stoked about with great views of the city.
The Montjuic Castle.
B’s game at the Military Museum—“Okay, which cannon would you choose? Now choose your armor. Ooooo! This is my sword!”
Meeting Scott at the top of the hill for another unexpected evening to spend together.
Dinner at Silenus—a great find by Scott even though I had resigned myself to the night being ruined.
Catalunya Square shut down for the Barca/Madrid game. Thousands of fans everywhere cheering and excited!
The taxi driver who illegally drove us out of the Catalunya Square are (all the streets were technically shut down and there were riot police everywhere).
Proof that it DOES always work out.

Day 5
Bonus time with Scott.
The Market on last time!
Tapas in a little square in the rain.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Barcelona is delicious. Mango-coconut juices and salty stacks of every kind of nut. Soft and spicy paella spiked with gigantic prawns and succulent bits of pork ribs. Smooth avocados peeled and eaten in the sand and smooshed all over our faces and underneath our fingernails.

The uncles and aunties ruffle the boys hair and help them with their tickets on the metro. The abuelas wink and the grandfathers chuckle and lift them into seats on the bus. The boys play their part—charming everyone with their sincerest attempts at por favor and gracias.

The sound of the waves crashing against the sand. Chubby dark skinned beauties squealing with delight. Rolled ‘r’s and the passionate music of spoken Spanish and Catalonian.

I’m getting better at this. I had no plan when we arrived. Only a few pages hastily printed at 11:30 pm the night before we left. But each day we have an idea and we follow our noses and our instinct to out of the way xocoa shops and cool squares with fountains and random jugglers.

I let the boys teach me about being present. Stopping at every pet stand on Las Ramblas—proving that just because you’ve seen one does not mean you’ve seen them all. Making games in the hotel room and at restaurants and to help pass the time when we go the wrong way and have to walk a long way back.

They teach me about living with reckless abandon. Throwing themselves in the sand fully clothed to make ‘sand angels.’ ‘Ah come on, Mama! It’ll be fine!’ B said when I declined. They climb to the very top of the rope structure and then shout, ‘Look at me, Mama! I’m not even holding on!’

We see lots of important things and decide that perhaps Gaudi’s greatest contribution to art and architecture is providing the perfect place to play tag.

Concessions and compromises are made. Bridger does not have to hold my hand, but he does have to walk right in front of me. Caid can play with the random card board box—soaking it in the waves and tearing it into tiny pieces—so long as he promises to throw it all away when he is done. He does throw it, without being reminded.

We improvise. Plastic bags—not store bought toys—end up being the tool of choice in the sand. The boys run through the beach-shower ‘sprinklers’ since the waves are too strong for swimming. We all four sleep in on king sized bed instead of two doubles. There is a pull out single bed, but even big boys don’t want to be left out of the snuggling cuddle fest. (A fact I discovered after sensing some sniffles from the little bed after lights out. Me: B, are you alright? B: um…yeah. Me: Is something wrong, Beast? B: It’s just that…no, nothings wrong. Me: Oh sweety, what’s the matter? B: (crying) Well, I just want to snuggle with you all night too! Me: Oh good! Will you please? I was hoping you would!)

We miss Scott during his 9am to 2am schedule, but we’re so thankful to be here. To have a nice hotel. To snuggle up with him when he gets in. We take lots of pictures to keep him updated on our day.

We fall deeper in love. With travelling. With a new culture. With one another and our own unique expression of family.

What a life.

Monday, 11 May 2009

I am in love. With a new city. Barcelona, to be exact. I knew it was going to be a match made in heaven when we stepped off the plane into the damp, sea-salty air. We dropped our bags off and headed out. It’s so…European. Mmmmmmm…that is the resounding emotion. My senses are filled to the brim and every one of them gives a resounding, mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

It smells good. A mixture of dust and sea air and cigarette smoke. Dirty bodies and car exhaust and unbelievably yummy food. It smells like LIFE and people and…mmmmmmm. It tastes good. The fresh fruit juices at the market. The cava served freezing cold from an ice bucket at my side. Everything drowning in olive oil. And the paella—oh the paella! It feels good. Bustling and busy, but no one in a bad mood. The waiters tease my boys and tousle their hair and give them a million candies on their way out the door. The grandmothers on the subway wink at Caid and ask questions in Spanish and praise the boys’ attempts at ‘por favor’ and ‘gracias.’ It sounds good. I’m thinking I need to learn to speak Spanish. I love the passionate sounds all around us. The tiny horns of the millions of scooters. The kids and the dogs and the vendors and the tiny chicks in their cages along Las Ramblas.

Highlights from Day 1:
Playing tag among the columns at Gaudi’s Park Guell.

Picking out the different ‘stories’ told by the Nativity Fa├žade at La Sagrada Familia. Bridger loved this and begged for ‘more stories.’

Watching the boys jump off benches. Making friends with the locals and playing football with their ball at the playground.

The walk along the sea front and incredible dinner at La Fonda. YUM!

The sea! Including squishing our toes in the sand. ‘Sand Angels’! Uproarious giggles as we tried to let the waves just barely lick our toes. The boys absolute delight at seeing the water.

Falling exhausted into bed (3 of us in the king sized bed and one on the little pull-out couch bed).

Highlights from Day 2:
Beginning and ending the day in the hotel pool. Including watching the boys’ ‘moves’ as they jumped to me in the deep end over and over and over again.

Mercado de la Boqueria. Avocados the size of small melons. Mounds of the most beautiful fresh fruit I have ever seen. Nuts and chocolates and fresh fruit juices to die for!

Our yummy dinner of fruit and avocados and nuts on the floor of the hotel room.

The boys’ amazing cheerfulness and resilience even though we kind of wandered around a lot as I got lost several times.

Can’t wait for tomorrow!