Traveler’s Rest

Val de La Loire

The River Loire

I was watching a documentary the other day and one of the men said something that stayed with me. He said that if many American people were given a long time to just do nothing, they would not know what to do. They are so plugged into social media, television and the daily rat race, leisure time would drive them crazy. I can relate to that. There are many people in my acquaintance who would not be able to just sit still and enjoy a beautiful sunset. Thankfully, because of my minimalist mindset, I am able to enjoy doing nothing. I have become quite good at it.

The few weeks we have been in this place of rest, I have been quietly content. I have had fun playing house. I consider it playing because at this stage in my journey, it is not something that I need to do “for real”. I have gone to the grocery store and bought groceries. Bean and I have cooked meals together, just for ourselves. We have taken long, long walks together. Bean hasn’t complained that there are not lots of stores to visit as we tell each other elaborate, ridiculous stories and sing silly songs. Sometimes, I even get out of my comfort zone and play follow the leader.

I know that there are beautiful castles to visit wherever we choose to go, however, I am mildly interested in it. For one, almost every day has been cloudy and gray. I don’t want to put forth a lot of effort to see a castle on a grey day. The way I see it, they have been here for hundreds of years. They will still be here when I come back again. We will see at least one before we leave, I am sure!

I am amazed when I think about my current self in contrast to my former self. My former self was all about maximizing every opportunity to do everything. My current self is content to just be here. My former self would rise early and plan every detail of activities for the day. My current self is content to know that we will be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner on time and the Bean is doing her schoolwork as she should. I don’t think that this current version of myself will last for the rest of my life, but for the moment, I am content with her.

I do my daily routine and many self-care activities. I eat well; I remain interested in life and people. I am ready to move on when the time comes to get back on the road. Just for this week, the itch is not as loud. However, as I write, read and research, I feel the wanderlust there, just below the surface. There is always someplace new that I have not yet visited. I still want to go.

Indeed, travel changes you. In the past, I found it amusing to need a vacation during a vacation. Now, it just makes sense. There is a great big wonderful world outside of the door, waiting to be explored. But today, it can wait.

Travel Troubles

Graffiti Crest, France

Beautiful Graffiti in Crest, France

Honestly, I do not know whether I am tolerant or not. Tolerance is something that most people strive to be these days. Tolerant of other’s religions, of their sexual preferences, of their food choices, of their political leanings and so much more. While people are the same everywhere, when traveling, most people stay in their own homes or hotels and they don’t need to interact too much with those who are different than themselves. Their level of tolerance isn’t tested too much. When we travel, Bean and I do our best to adapt to whatever the situation is, wherever we happen to be especially as we stay in other people’s homes so much. I feel as if my tolerance is continually tested.

In the last few months on the road, Bean and I have come across many families and individuals whose habits at home are not the same habits Bean and I share when we are home. I have done the best that I can to explain to Bean that even though we may be spending time with individuals different than ourselves, we will not be bringing their habits to our home. They are not acceptable. Does that make me intolerant?

In case you don’t understand what I am saying, let me make it very clear. We have stayed in the home of people who think it is no big deal to eat a bag of chips and leave the bag laying on the floor with the rest of the trash that didn’t make it into the garbage can. They see nothing wrong with having mountains of dirty laundry in every room. If they take off their dirty underwear, it can stay wherever it falls on the floor. There are others who don’t mind having six cats and a huge dog coming in and out of the house whenever they please, climbing on the table and counters, sniffing the food, shaking hair and dirt in every direction. Some people are not bothered by hundreds of flies buzzing in the house, falling in the food and crawling over the food they are preparing to sell at the organic market. I guess they feel it will add a little more flavor.

I like Bean to be around other children as well. This is also a challenge as there are so many parenting styles we must encounter. There are the parents who yell and scream at their children as the children yell and scream back at them. There are the parents who allow their children to demand them to obey and they follow their children’s orders without blinking. There are others whose children are allowed to hit other children or tell them how dumb they think they are. There are the parents who feel the best thing they can do with their child is give them an electronic device and leave them alone. That is just naming a few.

As I travel, I do so with the understanding that people do not share the same temperament. However, as I meet new people and stay in their homes, I am surprised that they are not as hospitable as you would expect of someone who is opening their home to others. There was the Airbnb host who demanded her guest to take out the trash. When the young lady said she didn’t have time, she demanded that she move from the room she was rented to another room. They didn’t reach an agreement, so the host followed the girl to her job and made menacing remarks to her supervisor. I was shocked. I spoke up for the young lady. This was unacceptable behavior! It didn’t put me on the host’s good list, but I felt it was necessary. The young lady moved out, which was for the best.

This past week was the most difficult. It could be that I am tired. I could be that I was trying too hard, but it really took something out of me. We were in the home of someone I knew to be difficult, opinionated and set in their ways. I still went to their home with the idea that I could help. I am overly optimistic that way. Bean and I showed up ready and willing to have another great adventure, but nothing we did was enough. There was no amount of adjustment to our situation that would have been enough, short of being completely subservient.

I was criticized because Bean needed new shoes, because I like to run in the morning, because we like to go the library and read books, because I drink mostly water, because we eat kiwi at night, because Bean and I hold conversations during meals, because I like the city more than the country. The list goes on. What upset me the most, but also lit a fire in my spirit, was when I was yelled at and told by this individual that he HATED single mothers. “Women need a man to tell them what to do!” This single mother, advocate for the rights of women everywhere, had enough.

Needless to say, we are no longer at that location. I have decided to take some time in the next few weeks to just hang out with Bean. I don’t really feel like meeting new people or interacting with locals. I just want to read, lay on the bed, watch lots of T.V. or do whatever I want for a while. I don’t want to help anyone with their projects at their home or to improve their language skills. I am going to be selfish for a few weeks.

We are in a beautiful area of France famous for magnificent castles. I didn’t choose the location on purpose; the price for the lodging happened to be really good. I am looking forward to going out in the next few weeks and seeing some of the places that have long been on my list of things to do. In my optimism, I see how great life is. One door shuts and another one opens. It leads you to the place you really want to be and you must step through it. There may be bumps in the road, difficult people and events, but in the end, life is beautiful!

Traveling with Kids

Versailles France

Bean at Versailles

I get asked often “How do you do it; travel so much with a child.” I don’t pretend to be an expert. I am only a single mom with one child who travels quite a lot. I strongly believe that travel with children is possible and an enjoyable adventure that every family, regardless of the size can undertake. Here is the thing I have discovered though: parents must believe that it is possible.

For parents, with children at home, reading about our adventures, wishing to do what we do, I would like you to know that it is possible. It is simple. The first step to leaving home is not when you are headed to the airport. The first step begins when you decide in your mind that it is possible for you and your family to take a trip together. After that, everything will fall into place.

As Bean and I go exploring the world, one of the most common phrases I hear is that I am a courageous single parent and that Bean is lucky. Bean is lucky, but most importantly, Bean has no idea that what she is doing is unusual. It is what we have always done. From the time Bean was five months, until now, she has been on the road. Her lifestyle, by design, seems normal to her.

I have been blessed with Bean. We have our difficulties as a mom and daughter who are together a large percentage of the time, but we share a love for the road. We work well together. I tend to be strict with Bean in terms of being polite and having proper manners, but for exploration, Bean is free to do as she pleases. Sometimes, I turn my head in the other direction so that she can REALLY do anything. I don’t want to say something to stop her exploration. I find that is the key to our travels. If I tell my daughter that she can do anything, I must allow her to do anything. I must what she does. I must demonstrate through my actions many things that she can do.

Here are a few things we do together to make travel with this kid possible:

1. We share activities and responsibilities- I realized early on that children can help out around the house. When Bean expressed an interest in sweeping, washing dishes or folding clothes, I let her do those chores. Even if they are not done properly, Bean can help with every day duties. When we leave the house, she carries her own bags.When she was too young to carry her bags, she helped me pull the suitcase, or carried her stuffed animals. Whether we are taking a walk around town, going to school or to the airport, Bean is responsible for her own things.

2. We choose locations together- as much as possible. Bean is learning geography as we go. She may also have an interest in places in the world I would not think to take her because of her age. If the price is reasonable, and the location is safe, if Bean says she wants to go and see something, we do it. In this manner, she feels as if she is part of the decision making process and is more likely to have a great time when we arrive because she chose to be there.

3. We interact with locals- By going places where the local people hang out, Bean gets first hand knowledge of what every day people do. When we go to conversation groups, Bean can share who she is and what she likes. She also feels as if she is helping people to speak like she does. At libraries, cafes and the park, Bean can interact with other children and make friends. We often use home sharing services when we are looking for a place to stay. We also use volunteering/ cultural exchange websites to meet people who are also interested in meeting us.

4. We do some of the same activities in every town- Everywhere we go, we take walks, visit bakeries, do school work, have movie night and the same bedtime. Bean may be in a foreign country, but the activities are not foreign, therefor making adjustment to different languages and cultures much easier. Once I discovered this secret to traveling with children, life became more tranquil. We do take the time to visit museums, amusement parks and other tourist attractions, but often we limit them to one a day. If there are many places that I simply HAVE to see, we take it easy by starting out in the morning with one attraction, lunch and a nap, another minor attraction in the evening, followed by dinner and bedtime. In this way, Bean is rarely exhausted to the point of displaying extremely bad behavior.

5. We keep it simple- Minimalism is the key. We each have one suitcase, and a few clothes. Bean has a few toys, a few books, some crafts. Everything we have and everything that we do is of value to us. We choose activities that mean something to us, not something the guidebooks and travel forums say that we MUST do because we are traveling with children. If we choose to go to a restaurant, we go because it is something that we enjoy. We choose a restaurant where the food and atmosphere is of interest to us both, even if it is fine dining. I accept that there will always be something that we did not do; something that we did not see. That fact does not bother me at all. If we saw everything, there may not be anything for which to come back.

I believe that life should be simple. Often, we make things more complicated than they should be. Travel with children can be enjoyable, interesting and possible. When more parents believe this and began to make plans by preparing their finances, choosing a location and getting out and experiencing it for themselves, Bean will no longer be considered so lucky…but she can live with that!

Please, share with us what you do when traveling with kids. If you haven’t yet traveled with children, but traveled as a child with your parents, what do you remember from that experience?

French Medieval Towns

Church Le Mans, France

Ancient church in Le Mans, France

We have returned to France and are very happy to be in beautiful medieval town. It is the second town we have visited that is known for its ancient background. We do pretty much the same thing here as we do everywhere else, explore. Somehow, it is more fun when you are surrounded by stone walls, homes and stairs that the Lords and Ladies of the town walked on hundreds of years ago. Enjoy the pictures!

Le mans france

Le Mans, France

Old town le mans france

The old town in Le Mans, France

La Drome et La Tour de Crest

La Tour de Crest, France and the Drome River

Crest, France

Crest is a town full of stone stairs which we love to climb.

Le Foret de Saou

At the bottom of the Rhone-Alps. Our first French snow.

Bean and I are pleased with the number of bakeries in this town. We have visited almost every one of them. I must make sure that I have one more piece of Galette des Rois before I leave or else I must wait until next year to get a bite!

Minimalist Reflections from 2016

Air France Poster

New York to Paris

I know most bloggers have already written their reflections of 2016, but with the events of the last month, it has sometimes been difficult to find time and space to sit and write. As we head back to France and at the beginning of a new year, I feel it is important to reflect on the past in order to project on the future our wishes and desires. Without reflection, I really don’t know how I would reach out and experience something new, something that I haven’t done before. How would I expand my mind, enrich my spirit and have the energy to touch others? Reflection is necessary for me in my every day life. Here on myspoclife, I believe it is important too, because after all, I am writing about my life as a minimalist, single parent and a world traveler. It all goes hand in hand.

There were three ways in which minimalism deeply affected my life in 2016:

1. Death and Minimalism

Coming back to the United States for the funeral of my aunt, my main objective was to be of service to my family during this difficult time. When my cousin died almost two years ago, I grieved harder than with the passing of my aunt. I knew that I could be here to provide assistance in cleaning out her apartment, since she was single and everyone else had more obligations than I. Working together with family to decide what should stay and what should go, actually proved to be more difficult than I had imagined.

As a minimalist, I went into the process thinking that my memories of my aunt were the most important things that I have from her. I was thinking that there was nothing that I could save that would be a substitute for her physical presence. My life is rich and full because of the time that I spent with her and the things that we did together. However, it was not so for other members of the family.

I know that everyone grieves differently, so when I was told to save items as banal as quotes from tea bags, I realized that my thinking varies greatly from many people. There is no one who wants expired coupons, outdated work manuals, or shoes two sizes too big. Why do we keep these things from our relatives who are no longer physically with us? They didn’t get rid of these things because they probably forgot they were there and didn’t have the time or energy to declutter.

I have a few older friends who say that they are in the process of getting rid of their material possessions because they know that their children do not want these things, so why make them deal with it when they are grieving? I agree. Death is a fact that we must all face. In facing it, I am thankful that my memories are all that my family will have to sort through. They can keep the good ones and discard the uncomfortable ones as they choose. Moving forward in life, that is what I choose to take from the ones whom I love.

2. Extended Travel and Minimalism-

When I first got on the road, six months ago, I had three large bags that we had to take up and downs stairs, in and out of cars and from house to house. Around the middle of summer, I realized that the big bag of toys and stuffed animals I was keeping for Bean, so that she would not be unhappy on the road, was unnecessary. I downsized and discard many items, giving them to people who will play with them, as I tell Bean. On the road, just as in Chicago, Bean plays with only a few preferred items. She is more interested in seeing what other children have to play with, or visiting the local attractions and playgrounds, than she is in playing with her excess amount of toys. So, thanks to minimalism, I pass them on to someone who can love them more and we travel with only two bags.

When I began travelling, our wardrobe was in a state of flux. Bean’s was easier to figure out. Instead of buying dresses and other items of clothing that had growing room, I quickly discovered it was best to buy for the current season only. Bean quickly outgrew everything that I bought at the beginning of the summer and somehow, we made it to September with what she had, but barely. I have always been of the mindset that you should stock up and buy things for children that will last a while, saving some things for the next year. I thought it would save money. Being on the road makes this impossible. Somehow though, it costs exactly as much to buy in advance as it does to buy only what we need for the season. Maybe even less, because we are not buying things that we don’t need at this present time. Sales lose their attraction if you have all you need and have nowhere to put anything new.

My wardrobe took a little longer to figure out. If you remember, I had a moment when I couldn’t decide if I should be wearing what I loved or what I had. Gradually, I was able to exchange the things that I didn’t really like,but were serving their purpose, for items that I love. The change of seasons helped tremendously with that. If it was still warm outside, I might still be walking around in serviceable clothing that look nice on me but that I really don’t care for. Winter allowed me to discard pieces of clothing that I no longer liked. I have a suitcase full of clothes that I can wear every day and be happy to put on. Head to toe, I am happy with what I have. Everything is interchangeable. I have not yet been too cold on account of not being dressed appropriately for the weather. I can put on more layers or take them off and my suitcase stays the same. I am thankful that minimalism has helped this single mom get her wardrobe together. I am carrying a couple of dresses that I haven’t worn in the last six months. Honestly, I don’t know when I will wear them again, but I like them. So I will keep them. I know that I might have a little more room in my bag without them, but they bring me joy. When they no longer give me pleasure, I will let them go into the life of someone who can appreciate them.


3. Minimalism and Life Changes

Perhaps, practicing minimalism affects me the most in this single category alone. Life Changes. Life is always changing. That is if you are truly living. There will always be something to overcome, to welcome or reject as we live our life. I have found that since clearing out the clutter from my home, my mind,my life, I am able to be clear on what is really important. It becomes easier to experience smooth sailing because if life brings a storm my way, I can stop and recalibrate. I can get back to what is the most important thing in my life. I can feel at liberty to live my values, in spite of what others may feel or say. This, to me is the most important gift of minimalism as I try to be the best single parent to Bean and travel the world at the same time. I am grateful to have found such a positive direction for our future.

What about you? Do you engage in reflection at the beginning of a new year or new season? Why? Do you find it a beneficial practice or just another chore? I love to hear your thoughts.

From Texas to Mexico: Crossing the Border cont.

Mexico

The Giant Christmas Tree of Cuidad Acuna

I lived in Texas most of my life. Thinking about it now, I am puzzled that I didn’t visit Mexico before this year. When I was a senior in high school, a good friend at the time, mentioned that we could go and visit her family for our senior trip. I was very excited, but she got a boyfriend and decided to get married instead. A few years ago after a family trip, we discussed going to Mexico together. That year all the violence was publicized. We changed our mind and Mexico disappeared from my radar. Ironically, it seemed too far away.

Since travelling internationally, I realize how small the world is. It is all a matter of perception. Going to Mexico no longer seems like a difficult undertaking. It is as simple as putting gas in the car, good music on the radio and grabbing my passport. Getting up the next morning after visiting Piedras Negras, Mexico, we got in the car and headed north to our next stop.

Del Rio, Texas to Cuidad Acuna, Mexico

Driving into town, I began to look for a gigantic Mexican flag. I wasn’t sure if all Mexican border towns had one, but I welcomed the idea. Alas, I didn’t see anything. In fact, the road to the international bridge was not very interesting at all. There were no stores or markets like we had seen the previous day. All you could do was drive to the bridge and over into Mexico. The town was very quiet, but there were plenty of Mexican military officers around the bridge. We drove a few blocks and around the corner, (so that I can say I have driven in Mexico) and found parking.

We took off walking through the main square filled with dentist offices and other pharmacies. This town had more independent businesses selling Mexican souvenirs. I read that there were a few bars and restaurants that were very popular with tourist a few years ago, but they had to close their doors due to the lack of visitors in the last few years. Walking past them was sad, but then I saw the sign for the Oficina de Turismo!

I walked in, using my bad Spanish, and asked where was the office. The lady kindly led us to the door leading upstairs. Thankfully, I did not have to use my Spanish. The young man there answered all of our questions in English and made sure to tell us repeatedly “It is safe. It is safe.” He recommended taking a taxi to see Lake Amistad. What he said was the largest lake in Mexico.

Dam Amistad

Lake Amistad and Dam

We decided to make a mini tour of the city by ourselves before going out to the Lake. The people were very helpful with our questions and after have lunch in the square, riding the mini bus, and going to the supermarket, we were ready to go to the Lake. The first taxi we hailed was willing to take us out to the lake. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I didn’t realize it was so far. The drive was worth it. If the pictures could only express how beautiful it was.

Lake Amistad

Dam Border!

Progreso, Texas to Nuevo Progreso, Mexico

SNOWBIRDS! That was the first thing out of my mouth about one mile away from the border. License plates from Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Minnesota, Idaho, and so many northern states, you would not believe it unless you have seen something like it before. There were older people on walkers, in wheelchairs, on canes and hobbling across the border. We were arriving right in the middle of rush hour bridge crossing traffic. The hawkers in front of the stores, on the main street, knew it and they were out full force.

“Manicures. Pedicures. Medicines for you. Dentist for you. The best one in town.” Everyone was selling something. The sidewalks were crowded with people. I loved it. In the other cities, it seemed that the noise level went down once you crossed the border, here it went way up. Restaurants, bars, Mexican souvenirs and plastic surgery, whatever you want, you can get it walking down the main street of Nuevo Progreso.

Bean stopped in as many stores as I would let her. She spent every penny she had on the first sweet, shiny things she found. My mom only wanted a bakery and I needed real food. We went to a side street and at the persuasion of the family yelling “Tacos and Lonches” we sat down for lunch. Having never heard of lonches before, we asked for an explanation. The gentleman told us it was a sandwich with meat, cabbage, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions and avocado. For the price, we decided to have a plate of tacos and a plate of lonches. The first bite melted in our mouth. In minutes, we devoured our shared plates of food and decided to order more lonches. The proprietors were thrilled. The man sitting at the next table seemed to enjoy us as well, watching us like we were a T.V. show.

Eating in Nuevo Progreso

Lonches, yum!

The whole time we were at our table eating, there was a steady stream of individuals, young and old, looking to make a dime. A young girl came in and started to touch our hair. Bean was somewhat shy for a short time. When the girl wanted to sell her last few pieces of gum, Bean gave her the only two quarters she had. She received 6 pieces of gum. Bean thought she won the lottery. As soon as she could, she began to stuff her face full of little pieces of gum. My mother and I said thanks for a great meal as we left completely full. We still wanted to find that bakery!

Leaving the city center, it was much quieter. The residents went on with their lives while the tourist looked for a great deal. After asking a few people where to find the bakery, we located one with freshly baked sweet breads. The prices were great and we chose the most colorful cookies and breads. Once again, my Spanish helped me, but I still wanted clarification when it came to the correct price in pesos. The baker was kind enough to write it down for me and we happily paid and left to enjoy our treats.

We did so much in three days, and yet there was more to do. I will definitely plan a trip to Mexico in the future. I must start working on improving my Spanish again so that I make it easier for anyone who has to listen to me. I am thankful that even though there are bad things, crazy things in the news about Mexico, we didn’t encounter one negative event. Not one! Every single interaction that we had, and because I asked a lot of questions there were many, was positive. Whether we were paying for services or asking directions, we were treated with hospitality. One gentleman told us if we needed any help at all,come back to see him and he would do whatever he could to help us. He blessed us, as did many of the people, and that touched me. Meeting people like that gives me a desire to keep traveling. So I am off again on another adventure!

From Texas to Mexico: Crossing the Border

Mexico American Border

On The Border…for real

After being in the States for a few weeks and taking care of the needs of my family, helping out wherever they needed me through driving, moving, or babysitting, I had the overwhelming need to do something for myself. As you know, there is nothing I like to do more than explore somewhere new. We were all sitting around the table for lunch at a Mexican food restaurant last week, when my dad began talking about his recent trip into Mexico. He didn’t tell anyone he was going, he just made the arrangements and he went. He has some medical issues and is always seeking a creative solution instead of just eating correctly. I was sitting there listening to him talk when it hit me “I am going to Mexico.”

Right away, I asked my mom if she wanted to spend a few days in Mexico with Bean and I because she is still off from school. She said she would need to think about it. I told my dad and my other relatives I was sorry they couldn’t come because they had to work, and I started to plan. Actually, I wasn’t really planning. I was just getting directions so I didn’t waste time driving when I only had a short time to visit. Immediately, as expected, many friends and relatives began to ask “Is it safe to travel to Mexico?” I replied that I haven’t heard anything in the news recently, but there are many border crossings from Texas to Mexico and I would go in by the best ones I could find. I wanted to spend three days in three different cities exploring whatever they had to offer. I was determined that I would not let someone else’s fears, negative attitude or concern for safety keep me from having, what I knew would be, an amazing trip.

Surprisingly, as I searched for information on crossing the border into Mexico from Texas, I could not find any current news. There was practically nothing out there from the last two years or so. There wasn’t any news on recent border violence, immigration issues, where to go or what to do. Everything that I found was old. I decided that I would just make my own itinerary, entering Mexico from the city that was the closest in driving distance to my parents home. Because of the difficulty of finding information, my route was not perfect, but it all worked out. My mom decided that she would be brave enough to go with us and we left very early one morning to begin our adventure.

Black Rock Mexico

Piedras Negras, Mexico


Eagle Pass, Texas to Piedras Negras, Mexico

As we drove into Eagle Pass and started to drive toward the International Bridge, my excitement mounted. Right there on the horizon, just across the border was the largest flag I have ever seen. Flying proudly in the air, on the other side of the border was a gigantic Mexican flag. It flew high in the sky, visible for miles and miles. It was as if Mexico was telling the U.S.A. “Build your wall, we are proud to be Mexican”. Inside, I applauded the person who wanted to raise this HUGE flag.

Before looking for a place to park the car and walk across the bridge, we decided to stop and have a picnic lunch on the banks of the Rio Grande. We sat and ate our sandwiches, listened to the children playing across the border and watched as the border patrol went up the river in their boat. The day was perfectly beautiful. The temperature was warm, the sky blue and cloudless with a slight breeze; I could not have asked for a better day. There was a market on the American side of the border and even with all the cars on the road, we still found a parking space not far from the bridge. We paid our toll of fifty cents and started walking.

In the middle of the bridge, we stopped and took our pictures of the beginning of Mexico and the end of the United States. There were a few other people walking across with us, but I was amazed that I didn’t need to do anything to leave. We didn’t show I.D., we didn’t need to speak with an official, we didn’t need to have a passport, nothing. To leave, all you need to have is fifty cents. We showed up in Mexico with no idea of what to do or see and began our adventure.

Just like when I cross borders in Europe, I am always amazed at how a border, whether you see it or not, instantly puts you somewhere completely different from you were before. I expect that because someone lives in a border town, they will be more aware of their neighbors language, culture and habits. It simply is not so. I didn’t want to be one of those Americans who demand that everyone speak English because I do, so I did my best to remember the Spanish I learned for our trip to Costa Rica. To my amazement, in a very short time, it began to come back. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish is very, very basic…very, very, bad, but it was enough. Everyone with whom I spoke did their best to help me with whatever I needed.

We stopped by an office and asked where was the Oficina de Turismo. The man answered me and pointed in a direction and told me about a Plaza. We started to walk in the direction he told us. After going a few blocks and realizing that maybe I could get a clearer understanding if I asked a policewoman, we did just that. She said there wasn’t an office. Hmmm, so what do we do now?

My mom wanted to take a break, and Bean wanted to go into all the stores, so I changed our plans a little. There were so many little stores, but many were closed since it was New Year’s Day. We stopped for a minute at a cafĂ© and then Bean wondered in and out of many stores which makes her very happy. As we walked along the streets, we were getting a bit of attention. I didn’t think too much about it because I felt that these Mexican people were not used to seeing people of our color. No big deal, that is definitely not the first time that has happened. But it wasn’t our skin, it was our hair! When we went into the clothing store, a family was walking close behind us and I heard them mentioning our hair, then they reached out and touched it. It was surprising and funny. We are used to seeing each other and being with each other, so to us, we are normal. But to other people, seeing my mom’s white hair and Bean’s locs is rather unusual. Bean takes being touched by strangers well, especially since she is always touching people, so we had no issues.

Mexican Flag at Piedras Negras

I love this flag. It’s HUGE!

In order to see the city better and not stay in Centro all day, we decided to ride the city bus. You know, that is what I do, take public transportation. We crossed the street and immediately, a bus came along. I was standing there trying to figure out how to say “Can I use dollars?” in Spanish, and feeling very bad that I hadn’t taken the time to change money or even figure out the exchange rate when the bus driver said, “What do you need?” What a relief. We explained to him we just wanted to ride the bus. He told us to come on and he would take us around. Our trip would take about two hours and he would accept our three dollars. He explained that it was not a tourist bus and we let him know that we understood. We didn’t want a tourist bus, we just wanted to ride and see what Piedras Negras, Mexico was really like. To be honest, I wanted to see these things. My mother is not as adventurous as I am, at times, I could feel her tense up during the ride, thinking about the stories that she had heard about people being kidnapped in Mexico. I ignored it and gently made her get out of her comfort zone.

Our driver told us to come and sit behind him and he would tell us what he knew about the town of Piedras Negras/ Black Rock. He had only been living there a little over five years and didn’t know much of the city because he was always working. He would start driving at 5 a.m. and drive into the night, going home around 11 p.m. He said that he was able to take home fifty percent of whatever fare he collected for the day. He only made $5 some days, but he enjoyed his job. He turned up his 80’s American music, and we took off. We drove through the rough area of town where the houses were little more than cardboard and sticks. “Even people living in Piedras Negras didn’t like coming through here when things were bad,” he said. He showed us better areas of town out by the airport, hospital and commercial center. There were some people who got off and when they got back on, we were still on the bus. They looked at us, puzzled, but didn’t say anything. The ride was good for me.I learned a few new words to let the driver know I wanted to get off of the bus. I was able to feel as if I was truly in another country. I was renewed interacting with kind strangers.

We asked where could we go to eat and received a recommendation. Unfortunately, after getting off of the bus and going back into the town center, we were not able to find the store. We walked through the market and asked another gentleman where to eat. It seemed that all the restaurants were closed for the day. We were starving, and so we decided to go back to our car and find something to eat on the other side. We walked across the International Bridge again and this time, on the American side, we were asked for our passports. I was hoping to get a stamp to show myself that my spontaneous idea to go to Mexico turned out to be a good one and that I should continue to follow my heart in the coming year. Alas, all the guard did was swipe our passports. So I don’t have anything on my passport to show me that I should keep going and doing what I feel, but I do have me.

This year, I plan to follow my dreams and live my life to the best of MY ability. I am very aware of people all around me who are just living one day at a time and hate their lives. They try to rain on my parade (you know them because they are in your life too). They continue to go through the motions of their lives because they are working to please someone or because someone told them they shouldn’t do something. They listen to the news, they listen to each other, but they don’t listen to themselves. They have forgotten what truly makes them happy. I choose to be different!

This year, I am tuning in to MY desires and I will have more great stories to tell…beginning with more about Mexico! I want to hear from you about when you listened to your heart and followed your intuition to do something you knew would be good for you, despite what others may have said. Your stories encourage me as much as I hope mine encourage you.

‘Tis the Season

Hanging out at the mall

Christmas Bear and I

Let me be honest. Earlier this year, after realizing that our road trip and future travels would have us out of the United States for the Christmas season, I was so excited. As a minimalist, I was actually smug. I pat myself on the back because I was so smart. No more mass consumerism in the name of baby Jesus. No pressure to participate in the traditional holiday events. No presents, no cards, I thought I would not need to even acknowledge the holiday as we planned to travel to a country that did not celebrate Christmas. Well, sometimes the Universe knows better than me what I need.

For the first time in almost ten years, my entire family will be together for the holidays. That is my parents, brothers and their families and Bean and I. We plan to do a great big breakfast with friends of my parents and a great big dinner with just us. I am sure it will be a great time. I feel just a teeny bit sorry for my dad because the noise level will be a bit out of control with seven grandchildren running around. In fact, he kinda reminds me of the Campbell’s Tomato Soup commercial asking, “When are they leaving?” However, we are making precious memories.

Whatever you do for the holidays, whether you celebrate or not, Bean and I wish you all the blessings of the Season! Join us in loving all the great things about this time (hot chocolate, family, friends, laughter, dessert, and lots of other good things to eat) and avoiding the rest (crowded parking lots, stress over what to buy, long lines and more stress)! Merry Christmas!

French Christmas

Aeroville, Roissy-en-France
wishes us a Joyeux Noel!

To Aunt Margaret, With Love

Emanuel Family

Aunt Margaret and the Gang

We are back in the United States for a short time due to the sudden death of my beautiful Aunt Margaret. You may remember her through some of the stories I posted about our weekend road trip, Atlanta and Charleston. She was an amazing woman. I felt we shared a special bond. She shared so much of her life with us that while I will miss her physical presence, I feel like she will always be with me.

Aunt Margaret was such a positive influence in all of our lives, but especially mine I like to think, because we were both the middle child. We shared a love for France, travel, road trips, playing games, looking nice, good food and being different. She is in so many special memories. The first time we visited her in Chicago; seeing the fireworks from the rooftop of her apartment downtown; watching the El from the floor to ceiling windows; sleeping in the loft; eating spinach pizza an inch thick and being stuck underground at the Brookfield Zoo because of a tornado warning.

Aunt Margaret in Charleston

Spending time in Charleston

We also went to The Other Cinderella, one of the first live theater plays I ever attended. I kept that playbill for years. We went together to see Gigi at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I watched that movie many times after that. I visited her during the summer after I finished high school and scoured Time Out Atlanta to see what cool things there were to do. We found poetry readings in obscure locations, ate at Sevenunda and other unique restaurants. I crashed at her place with my friends from Florida and remember feeling like we owned the town because we could come and go as we pleased; like we were grown for the first time in our lives. We hung out at the Atlanta underground and visited the Coca Cola museum over and over and over. There was the time she rescued three day old baby kittens because the mother disappeared for a few days. We didn’t like cats, but she took all six of them and we had to feed them with a bottle and help them go to the bathroom. I was so happy when the mother cat came back and we gave those things back! I walked those HUGE Afghan hounds of hers…or letting them walk me. We all listened to the little dogs of hers yap, yap, yap.

Charleston with Aunt Margaret

Jasmin and Aunt Margaret at Taboulli

Aunt Margaret was the first person I knew who loved color as much as I did and was not afraid to use it. While I had a bright electric yellow room in my parent’s house, she had a bright multicolored house. Her living room was orange, the media room bright pink, one bedroom was turquoise, the kitchen sour apple green, the breakfast room yellow and more, so much more. It all worked well together and was a true representation of her spirit: bright and colorful.

The memories continue. This year was so amazing because Aunt Margaret was able to spend so much time doing so many things with people she loved and who loved her very much. She welcomed my friends into her home this year as she always has. She treated us as if we were the most important people of the day. Bean and I were so happy to spend so much time with her during our road trip. It was a pleasure to curl up on the couch, eat our favorite pizzas and share our favorite movie of the year, Zootopia, with her. While I took a short nap, she and Bean watched The Peanuts Movie together. I woke up and she was crying because she thought it was so cute. I had to laugh at her. We explored her neighborhood because she didn’t have much time too. Instead of being jealous, she loved to hear the stories of what we did for the day, whether it was visiting the old plantation homes, the consignment shop, the park or the French bakery, Aunt Margaret wanted to know all of the details.

Atlanta with Aunt Margaret

Spending time with Aunt Margaret in Atlanta

I always enjoyed calling Aunt Margaret to talk about the mystery of men: what the Heaven makes them tick? We would share stories and laugh and try to figure out the puzzle. She was my aunt, but she was my friend too. The amazing thing is, as special as I felt around her, she was the same with everyone. She shared herself with Bean and I just as she shared with all of her family and friends. Now that she has gone, our family wonders who can take her place? Aunt Margaret, you have filled our lives with so many precious memories. As long as we have them, you will always be with us. We love YOU more.

Money, Money, Money, Money…French Style

Air France

Roissy en France Office de Tourisme

You would probably be surprised the amount of books I have read about France. You might be surprised that I am still reading them. In the beginning, as I have mentioned before, I read them to feel close to France when I wasn’t there. Now, I read them to see if anyone shares my viewpoint. I am still searching for that book. Most share the same image of France that you can find in any other book written by people who have lived here a while.

There is another idea widely spoken of: French people don’t talk about money. When I was younger, I might have shared that opinion because the French people I knew were either my friends, who were making only a little more money that I was, or the people for whom I worked. My friends participated in many of the same activities, so we didn’t really care about how much money any of us made. If someone didn’t have the funds, someone else covered. For the employers, we only cared that they had the money to pay us. If we knew what they did,it was easy to figure out how much they made. Who cared as long as we got paid.

As I am older, I know a wider variety of people. I am meeting new people on a regular basis and here is a funny thing…everyone talks about money. Maybe this is a new thing. Maybe I am just someone with whom it is easy to talk. Maybe the authors of the books were not listening. I really don’t know, but I do know that I have been told on numerous occasions the financial affairs of many French people…and contrary to what is written, these people are not my friends and I didn’t ask.

In France, the citizens are entitled to many great benefits: health care, social security, extended maternity leave, money for the children’s return to school, additional vacation money (separate from paid time off) and so much more. Some of these benefits are dependent upon your salary, some benefits are for everyone. French people do tend to pay higher taxes than Americans, but in my opinion, it is well worth it. It is also pretty common knowledge that salaries are lower in France. I didn’t ask, I was told. Still, in my opinion, the benefits are worth a smaller salary.

As I speak with French people about daily life, about my blog, about our travels, people open up to me. Normally, they are asking me questions. I want to know everything about someone that they are willing to tell me, but I do not want to seem as if I am prying, so in social situations, I do not tend to ask many questions. At least, I don’t think I do. I just let people talk.

Many people have told me the exact amount of money they make. People tell me what they do with their money. Someone told me they are a person who lives in poverty. That really took me by surprise. Every time French people tell me freely about their money, I feel a little funny. In the back of my mind I am thinking, but I thought French people didn’t talk about money.

I don’t mind. In fact, I find it humorous that so many people who have lived in France have not had the same experience. In fact, maybe they have,but it is another one of those marketing things. I believe that the main reason I am finding out more about France than what you read about in the popular books about the country is that I am actually living in French households. I did not rent a house or apartment somewhere and try to integrate myself in the community. Living with people really opens up the doors of communication and exchange. Depending on how long you stay, you will find out quite a bit about someone, maybe even more than you would like to know. As we continue our journey, I will continue to let you know what French life is really like.

If you have questions you would like to know about an aspect of French life, let me know. I may not get you the common answer, I may not even have an answer, but I will certainly try. Do you speak of money in your conversations with acquaintances? I would love to know.