From the Capital to Cairo

“Have Suitcase, Will Travel.” Ultimately, the rewards of Foreign Service life outweigh the hardships of living abroad, and my husband, son, and I appreciate the opportunity to explore new countries. I always attempt to embrace transition by running toward it with arms open wide, but then start losing enthusiasm for the actual moving process, the difficult farewells, and the well-meaning conversations that end in “I could never live there. Good luck!”

“Handling these overseas moves should be getting easier,” I think to myself, preparing household shipments for a home I’ve never seen, tying up loose ends at work, and poring over exhausting checklists. Tears spring to my eyes, thinking of the long distance we’ll be from loved ones, while explaining to our precious, small boy why we are moving to yet a third country within 10 months, with the promise that he will see his disappearing toys soon, and meet new friends (again). I take some deep breaths, focus on being thankful, and read a quote often, sent by a dear friend and artist that says “Be at peace as you enter the waters of deep change and initiation.”

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I know by now that there is a normal emotional pendulum for these big upheavals that swings from being filled with apprehension and feeling like falling apart, to being mentally positive and excited. We will find our footing in our new home, as we always do, as we discover wonderful people, places, and experiences that expand our life perspectives.


Flying into Cairo, the lavender light of dusk turns into a milky haze that blurs the ground from the sky.  Disoriented with jet lag, we step off the plane onto the tarmac, inhaling heat and tasting dust.

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The drive from the airport to our apartment is a bum-clenching experience. Vehicles of all kinds are inches from our car door, swerving and flowing in unison like a peloton of cyclists, all of them wildly honking, with complete disregard for lanes and traffic laws (such as not using headlights in the dark, as it’s believed turning them off saves battery). We pass a string of black billboards with strange pictures of horses made out of bright orange flames. Trucks piled high with sacks, leaning and lopsided, threaten to topple. Five people are stacked onto one moped like a circus trick. The driver comments that traffic here will “make you out of order and you must use eight eyes.” Three-wheeled tuk-tuks squeeze their way through the maze of congestion, alongside donkeys pulling drivers on crate-filled carts, adding to the  frenzy that is a new bizarre beginning of a life in Egypt.


Life in Egypt. A few weeks in, we have adjusted to our time zone, figured out which stores have which ingredients in order to cook meals at home, met lovely people, joined the expat club, found a playground and a yoga class, have all fallen ill and recovered, and have navigated numerous new processes and ways to do things, such as understanding the role of our building doorman/”boab”, how to order take out delivery from an “otlob” mobile app and give them directions to where we live, and trying to use taxis using scant arabic (if Brad isn’t with me) and lots of hand signs..

Keeping your sense of humor is key while digesting these initial days in a brand new culture. Here are a few mishaps and observations:

  • I can wake up and Windex the glass table on the balcony and 5 hours later, can literally write in the dust, which is fine like flour.  Sweeping it is as futile as using a broom on a beach. And if you pet a cat, the puffs of dust actually rise up like a little cloud in a cartoon
  • Good coffee and a delicious bakery in our neighborhood have been excellent for my morale. And the servers give Ramsay a free straw, which he puts in water and calls his “fancy drink.”
  • At Carrefour grocery store, in the bathroom, I pushed the wrong button to the delight of my 4 year old, who was in stitches laughing as I soaked my shirt with the bidet. I wrung it out and continued to shop, sopping wet.
  • “What happened! Are you ok? You look like you got run over by a motorbike!” – Comments from my husband after I exited a cab after using a very old, dusty seat belt that left a charcoal-black thick stripe across my white tunic, like a miss-America pageant ribbon.( “Wow! I bet no one has used that seat belt in decades” was the follow up comment).
  • During yoga, there was a horrible, distressful sound. Inquiring afterward, the yoga studio owner explained the landlord next door was eschewing evil spirits by sacrificing a goat on the property. (And I thought we left black magic practices behind in Swaziland…)
  • The idiosyncrasies of a new home- sometimes our shower pressure is fine, and other times, it’s like showering on a small boat, barely dripping. And if I even breathe on the dishwasher, it mysteriously turns on, locks, and won’t turn off until the cycle is complete. Then we had to call in the plumber when water started seeping out from under the cabinets and over my feet while washing the dinner dishes in the kitchen sink.
  • Paid $40 for 2 bottles of Nivea sunscreen at the local pharmacy, then subsequently found the very same bottles for $3 each when I went to the commissary. 
  • Ramsay and I bought yummy deep-rose colored hibiscus ice cream, where Ramsay loudly inquired, “how in the world, Mama, does he eat with just one teeth?”  We walked away quickly and I prayed the ice cream vendor didn’t understand English very well.
  • We called a recommended Felucca (sailboat) ride guide named Haani, who reserved us a boat. We got directions to his dock, stepped out of the cab, met Haani, and got on the boat. Then got a call on my cell phone from Haani, wondering if we were stuck in traffic. Confused, I explained that we were on his boat. Except, we weren’t. We were on some other guy’s boat who just wanted the money, and had to turn around half an hour into our tour, to find the “real” Haani pacing like a wolf on the dock and yelling at our captain. Then the real Hanni started a real fist fight with the fake Haani, and we got the hell out of there fast. (But we loved the 30 minute sail on the NIle). Ramsay, Brad, and I ran down the sidewalk and hid inside a restaurant, then decided just to sit down and have dinner there.

And things we love already: the trees in our neighborhood, the gorgeous tangerine sunsets, the festive atmosphere, shops with Aladdin-looking lamps, the souks and markets, Egyptian food, the juxtaposition of complete dilapidation and stunning beauty on the same block, seeing artifacts from the 5th century A.D!  Our little balcony, the wonderful crafts, the pretty weather, and everyone sleeping through the night again.

Until we meet again. Ma‘a as-salaama,

Tracy

 

Forging a New Path

As with any great life transition, there are too many words, thoughts, and emotions to capture. There is a lot of anticipation…and a little apprehension, too.

As we leave our home in Swaziland,

We are also going home.

Celebrating our experiences, our friends, our family.

Taking flight, soaring over lands and oceans.

We embrace a new nest

with gratitude as we forge a new path ahead.

Namaste,

Tracy

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Bones, Branches, and a Lemur

Winter in the southern hemisphere gets down to the brass tacks of nature. The cold in Swaziland isn’t too harsh, but dry fields burn bright orange as wild fires blaze, scorching the earth to regenerate the soil.  Leaves are brittle and dry. Roads are dusty. Winds howl through the naked trees.

The heater in our old Landy works pretty well. It was not love at first sight, driving this old beast, but she has become a symbol of road trips and African adventure for our family. We recently journeyed to Ndlovu camp in Hlane Royal National Park. It has no electricity in its thatched huts called rondavels.  When you check in to get your key (that has no door number, just the name “Big Hut,” ) you see bones and skulls displayed of hippos, crocodiles, deer, and lions.

As we settled in, the late afternoon sun waIMG_0682s setting behind brambles, the light resembling stained glass. Encroaching darkness cast elephant-sized shadows all around, diminishing the details of our ambient room. A woman came by to light our kerosene lamps.Nightjars called, and a bright white crescent appeared with a billion sparkling stars. A bare tree, starkly silhouetted against the moon-lit  sky, had branches dotted with so many stars that they looked like snow flakes.

IMG_0759In the absence of electricity was a gorgeous quiet; no usual house hums of fridge or gadgets. It was so silent, in fact, that I heard a faint ringing in my ears.

I piled on the blankets and read a book by flashlight.

Close to midnight, there was rustling in the living room. I walked toward the noise with a lamp and saw a wild cat staring at me with big ears, a long, ringed tail, and spots. This was no kitty cat. I sort of scream-whispered, “Brad, wake up! There is a wild cat in here with spots!”…(One of those sentences in life you think you’ll never say) . “What IS IT?” Will it bite the baby?!“ is all I could squeak out.

After some harried discussion, we decided there was a lemur in our rondavel. (Techinically, this animal is called a genet, as we later learned). As my husband says, he “thought when we closed the door to our hut, we were keeping the wildlife out.”

In the end, our furry visitor was harmless and crept his way back out into the night through a hole in our thatched roof.  And the rondavel was peaceful once again.

Be Illumined this month, and may nothing dim your light,

Tracy

 

Welcome to Carpe Diem Creative

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Hello!  If you are new to this space, welcome, and thank you for stopping by my new virtual home, Carpe Diem Creative.  If you have followed me from my previous site, I am grateful you came along! I look forward to sharing thoughts, photos, art, travel experiences and life’s abundant beauty with you, and would love to hear your comments, stories, and experiences, too.

We are in Mauritius (locally called “Isle Maurice”) for vacation, soaking up the elements of air, water, earth, and fire in the form of sky, sea, sand, and tiki torches…with a backdrop of gorgeous scenery. In between swimming and building sand castles with our son, I am finding little windows of time to write in my journal, peruse art and decor magazines, look for shells, take beach walks, speak a bit of French, and replenish the well of creativity and inspiration. Balmy Indian Ocean breezes are getting rid of the mental winter cobwebs, and smiling comes easily.

Photos below:

  • Market vendors in Mauritius sell a rainbow of fruit salad-colored baskets, scarves, tunics, vegetables, loose tea, and spices of tamarind, cinnamon, saffron, vanilla, cardamom and ground coconut
  • At a beautiful Hindu temple, worshipers gave offerings to the gods
  • A home by the sea seems very loved with its unique heart-shaped shutters
  • We toured Chamarel’s colored earth; a beautiful pastel wave of  “7 Colored Sands,” produced naturally by a volcano
  • A vibrant (and fiesty-tempered) red bird that frequented our patio

Wherever you are today, embrace an island pace of life.

Carpe Diem,

Tracy

 

 

Glittering Sand and Reclaiming Wholeness

Do not give up your wilder spirit; the creative spirit thrives on freedom and daring. summarized from Marianne Williamson’s book, “ A Woman’s Worth.”

 

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I listen to our two-year old pretend to be on the phone. “Hello? Hello? I’m fine, okay, bye,” and he hangs up with gusto. I admit, I feel like I do this to my body and mind.
“ Hello? Body and Mind?  Are you there? Ok, bye,” without asking, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

I find a bruise on my leg from tripping on toys. “Sorry, body, it took a few days to notice…” Oh, and “Sorry, mind, I haven’t been listening to anything you’ve been saying lately about taking care of myself.” (As the cereal box goes into the fridge, and I reach into my purse to discover 2 Matchbox cars, a partially eaten cracker, and unidentifiable objects)…. now, what was I saying?

I ran away from home on Monday (with permission from my family). I was achy, whiny, and burnt out. My honey has a great sense of humor, and it’s always an internal barometer that something in me is frazzled when I’m not laughing and smiling so much because I am just. so darned tired and desperate for time to myself.  Granted, I have a very active toddler, but it wasn’t just that. I felt like a stale cracker with no pizzazz. And I like pizzazz. I want to feel lively, invigorated, creative, energetic, and have joie de vivre, don’t you?

Being alone away from home is different than being alone in my living room, where I’m distracted by what needs cleaning, organizing, planning, picking up, putting away…  Getting outside of my day-to-day environment makes room for serendipity in a place where I can seek solitude, do some soul-searching, and cultivate a happier spirit.  When I feel whole, I’m definitely a better wife, Mama, friend, and person to be around.

Why don’t we take time for ourselves more often? Because it’s hard. Hard to plan, coordinate the meals, transport, childcare, job, projects, school preparation… and so difficult to step away without loads of guilt. However, as a wise friend shared, “if you go to bed at night frustrated that you didn’t have any time for yourself today, it could be because you didn’t factor yourself into the day’s equation. The laundry and dishes can wait. Your sanity cannot.”  It’s hard to hear, but it’s true. And easier said than done, but self-care comes from practice.

Author Joan Anderson says, “ A full life does require cultivation and most women’s lives require some fallow time to restore our spirit, body, and mind.” Amen, sister. And how. How else can we fix ourselves when we feel depleted of energy, worn down, and dulled to our own life by not taking time for ourselves and our passions? To experience all of those great “R” words: radiance, renew, reflect, restore, replenish, repair, reclaim, reignite, and to guide us out of stagnation?

Fortunately, my spouse is an amazing, supportive man who “gets” me. He knows that occasionally, I become like a racehorse who wants out of the gate; to be alone with my thoughts, and discover somewhere new to reinvigorate my creativity, rest, and just be. He’s not threatened by my need to leave for a few days. He knows I will come back a happier woman and Mama.  I smile when he says with warmth, “ Go explore and do your thing. I know you need a break.”  We talked it over at lunch, and I immediately booked a few nights at a lodge and left two days later. I knew if I didn’t just GO, I might not at all.

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So, off I went. Passport in hand, five hours down the road, traversing one border crossing, in search of quietude at the beach. How did it go?

Day One:
Relaxation did not come quickly or easily. It’s hard to suddenly be alone and still, after being on spin cycle. The first day of my time away, I was fidgety. I fiddled around my hotel room, nesting. Straightening lamps and magazines, then stopping myself, realizing I was not here to do any cleaning! I made tea and sat on the balcony for all of ten minutes, feeling anxious and unsettled. I felt a little lost, honestly, without the pitter- patter of tiny feet, clinking of toys, and bustling activity in the room.  I wondered how things were going at home. Would my son eat well? Be sung to, read to, and tucked in? (Yes, but not like Mama would do it. I have to let that go…he needs time with Dad, and to know things can be done differently).

And there was no wireless access, so no hiding behind the computer to distract me from this space that was way too quiet. Ugh. I felt frustrated that I  came here to get away from it all, and then couldn’t stand the silence. Feeling restless, I left my room.  I found a place to have a drink and watch the Tour de France in the company of strangers, realizing it would take longer to get into the slower-paced groove than I thought.

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A twenty-minute stroll on a boardwalk close by helped. The trail was long and winding, with natural doorways formed by brambles.  As I walked through each threshold, I tried to think of something I wanted to leave behind: guilt for being here and stress, for starters. I sauntered along slowly and watched birds, deer, and squirrels, and enjoyed the way light filtered through the trees.

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The sun was setting, and I enjoyed the pink-tinged clouds forming over the estuary, the gentle sway of the reeds and grasses of the wetlands, and listened to the wind and creak of limbs (tree branches, not mine).  I found a pine cone that felt a bit like me, sort of prickly and cracked.

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Returned to my room and called home. Nothing was falling apart. So I soaked in the bath for a long time, lost in thought.  And then, I started, a little  bit, to unwind. I even started humming “my” music, instead of preschool songs.

Day 2:

I woke up early with thoughts spilling out of my head about things that needed to be done for the family and for the house, lists and more lists. I resolved that today I would not worry about everyone else, and try to live in the present.  A gratitude list always helps with this:  the fuzzy scarf I’m wearing, hot coffee, the soft morning light, my honey’s thoughtful note in my suitcase, the sound of our little fella saying cute things on the phone, hearing the sea in the distance.

It’s amazing what happens when you start to hear your own thoughts and get some rest. I realized after breakfast that the book I started a few days ago and brought with me isn’t very good at all. I was just reading it out of habit before bed. I left it at the front desk and took a new one from the freebie bookshelf in the lounge.

Adventure called. With a take-away sandwich from a tea shop, I headed to a nearby national park and drove slower than the speed limit to enjoy the flora, fauna, wide, blue sky, and wildlife. I found a shady spot under a tree to picnic and read on the beach with a majestic view. The tide rhythmically  ebbed and flowed.

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I wrote a couple of postcards. Took a shell-seeking walk. I picked up a section of dry bamboo and twirled it like a baton. I found a pebble, mentally put any stress and negative energy into it, and threw it ceremoniously into the sea. I sat, quietly, letting handfuls of glittering grains of sand sift through my fingers, and felt peace wash over me for the first time in a long while, connected to spirit and earth.

By the end of my sojourn, fueled by communing with nature and abundant solitude, I was ready to return home, more centered and mindful, more whole, feeling more human, and with a softer, lighter spirit.

Here’s to seeking enchantment, however and whenever you can, my friends, wherever you are.

Peace to you,
Tracy

Johannesburg and Capetown Travelogue

Hello there!

Hope your weekend is going well.  We haven’t had internet in a long while in Swaziland, so while I have WiFi at a hotel, I’m posting saved drafts of thoughts and travels.  I would love your comments and feedback if you have time. Have you ever been to these places? We especially loved the vibe, food, and friendliness (and panoramic views of mountains and ocean) in Capetown.  Happy Travels! – Starry

Johannesburg Highlights:
Nelson Mandela Square and nearby cafes
Michelangelo Hotel
Neighborgood Market
Arts and Crafts Market in Sandton
Great coffee shops
Quirky, trendy, fun decor of 44 Stanley Avenue enclave
Good Book Shops and Thai Food

Capetown Highlights:
Palm-lined streets (without potholes)
Rooftop terrace of our beautiful little Waterkant Village flat
Watching Ramsay take in aquatic life at the Aquarium
Discovery of Caroline Gibello’s Art Gallery (love her wildlife images and collage- worth clicking on the link to watch a 2 minute video that will make you fall in love with Africa)
Green Market Square
Simon’s Town penguin viewing
Gorgeous beaches and views of Kalk Bay, Hermanus, Camp’s Bay,  and Hout Bay
Stellenbosch wine country and Spier Vineyard tasting
Creative Block art project
Cable Car 3,000 feet up to Table Mountain
Coastal Road to Cape of Good Hope (almost made it to the end of the peninsula, but had to turn around due to a massive brush fire)
Delicious Seafood
Boats and restaurants along the Waterfront
Long strolls with ice cream cones
Hearing Drums and Finding Shells at the Beach (and our son dancing to Hare Krishnas’ tambourine shaking as they fluttered by)

The (other) Mosquito Coast and Crocodile Bridge

Historically, people think of Nicaragua and Honduras as the mosquito coast, but Africa has its share of mosquitoes and malaria zones; Maputo and Komatipoort being two of those. Below are the initial impressions of these vastly different cities.

We crossed the border from quiet Swaziland into Mozambique, and the sidewalks were bustling with people and activity.  Wood-framed stalls were stacked side by side like a crooked house of cards.  Inside: mufflers, clothes, fruit, bags of cashew nuts (yum), tires, lumber, and bric-a-brac galore.

Trucks were filled with green bananas, and women balanced buckets of grapes on their head, scissors dangling on a string to cut off the plump clusters. Tractors wobbled slowly down the road, passed by fast-whizzing cars that do not stop at “robots” (stop lights) or stop signs. The polarity of rich and poor in the capital city of Maputo is glaring.  Beautiful, old-world hotels dot blocks of buildings that are dilapidated and beyond repair.

Maputo is a town heavily influenced by its Portuguese origins, but is a buzzing meld of cultures. Our summer visit there was a heady mix of sublime Caipirinhas (a drink of sugar cane, lime, and rum), hot sun, anti-malaria medicine, and delicious food. It also has its share of crime. We parked on the street to board a ferry to nearby Catembe Island, and gone only an hour, we returned to a stolen review mirror.

A few hours by car in a different direction, the terrain completely changes, along with the ambiance. In the peaceful, tiny town of Komatipoort, we spent the night on the other side of Crocodile River from Kruger National Park.  Rarely am I wide awake and giddy at 5:45am, but crossing Crocodile Bridge to begin a day of safari, I was overwhelmed with anticipation.

I had never seen an elephant in the wild until that day, and it really is something to behold. Elephants are not just intelligent, but expressive and emotional. They mourn and bury members of their beloved herd, and they celebrate the birth of a baby elephant with joy.

It was an amazing day of collecting bits of knowledge about animals and the bush, and witnessing nature at its finest. The light changed frequently and was beautiful to watch, moving from bright and sunny to foreboding clouds that cast long, dark shadows, then the golden light of late afternoon appeared, illuminating the trees and grasses. Favorite images:

Sometimes the best part is back at the lodge, at the end of a full day, listening to dinner conversation. And as a response to the question, “What’s all the fuss about? It’s an elephant,” I would quote something a great friend sent: “Don’t forget to stop and be grateful for the ordinary.”  I guess locals forget that seeing wildlife like this is not an ordinary experience for most. For some (like me), this is the stuff of Hemingway novels. I suppose for others, it’s just another crocodile story… ”

IMG_4411Enjoy the journey,

Starry

Marvelous Moments

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Reading through my journal, 2014 has already brought so many wonderful new experiences.  Our time living abroad feels like life is on fast-forward,  so we really try to be present and feel thankful for these kinds of moments:

  • sampling new  Swazi and South African dishes: impala, pap, warthog, and ox tail
  • the moving, resonant, and harmonic voices of just six people attending an evening church service; their sound burst through the silence with gorgeous, powerful, a cappella song that filled the room
  • A hippo and crocodile cruise in St. Lucia’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and sleeping under mosquito netting in a cabin that feels like you’re in the jungle
  • the concept of the lodge “honesty bar, ” where you drink what you like in an outside lounge area, write it down, and get charged when you check out
  • playing with our toddler in tidal pools formed by the  Indian Ocean, watching the joy of his daily discoveries, wonderment of life, and reminders to all of us to be child-like and PLAY
  • fragrant Victoria St. Market in Durban; a maze of beaded sandals, wooden carvings clothing, jewelry, painted ostrich eggs, and woven baskets
  • being treated like family at a coffee roaster in a litchi orchard in Salt Rock, South Africa, where they are “mad for a gorgeous cuppa”
  • the adrenaline rush and phenomenal views from a first micro flight over Ballito
  • Driving on highway R541 called “The Genesis Route,” tied to the origins of our planet and the idea that all humans share an African heritage. 3.5 billion-year-old rocks in Makhonjwa mountain range are amongst the most ancient in the world. (let that sink in for a second. Wow, right)?
  • Discovering Vetiver grass roots, which smell divine, and loving the beautiful nests into which the roots are woven
  • Visiting Jane Goodall’s Chimp Eden, a bit disappointed not to have time for a tour, but then heading back to the car and spotting a group of  giraffes (called a “tower,” which seems aptly named, as they do tower, and grandly so).  Just free roaming, wild and out in the open.  Stunning.

Our African Adventure: Hello Swaziland!

taking in the viewHello! Sorry for the long hiatus in blogging.  Moving overseas has been an  all-encompassing event. I am so grateful to be back online with internet, which is a life-line of communication in a new place that feels very, very far away.

Our belongings in Virginia were carefully divided into “storage” and “ship” piles. Feeling a bit displaced in our own home,  we watched as our life in boxes was loaded into crates on moving trucks. Ready or not, may the adventures begin!

Our evening arrival to O.R. Tambo airport (named for a former President)  in Johannesburg made it too late to cross the border from South Africa into Swaziland before the checkpoint closed.  We didn’t mind having to spend the night at the airport hotel after a 22-hour travel day with our sweet toddler.  We were all jet-lagged and weary, but we made it!

We were slightly confused upon check-in at the hotel. It seemed they were offering us a kitty cat to borrow for the night for the baby, until we realized a “kiddie cot, ” was a crib, which came with its own tiny, fluffy duvet and high-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. I’ll take a kiddie cot, too, please.

The next day, we had a hearty breakfast and set out on the path to our new city, Mbabane.  However, getting out of the airport parking lot was a challenge.  Our car was towing a small trailer, and the car made it under the exit barrier, but the trailer did NOT, so my husband and our driver unhooked the trailer and pulled it by hand out of the parking garage. Whew!  The four-hour drive was beautiful. Our mountainous new home seemed to welcome us with warm, sunny skies and stunning views.

~

 A few of the first impressions of Africa:

the hand-woven doll ornaments on Christmas trees at the airport

the kindness that radiates from South African smiles

lavender-hued Jacaranda trees

deep red earth

houses with corrugated tin roofs

laundry hanging out to dry

the large number of hitchhikers on the road

huge, open blonde fields dotted with clusters of trees

a hazy, diffused pinkish-yellow light on the horizon

 lantern-like bird nests with openings at the bottom

IMG_2716So many new discoveries to explore. Hello, Swaziland. We look forward to getting to know you.

-Starry

A Tale of Two Cities, a Toddler, Some Tea…

Hi! It’s good to get back to blogging after a little summer break!  So much to catch up on. Took baby Ramsay on a two-city tour of Tucson, Arizona and Columbus, Georgia to see family. It was so much fun to watch him with his grandparents, and so good to get hugs and feel taken care of.

Too many random thoughts for any cohesive writing lately, so here’s a summary of things I am grateful for lately through photos:

The ritual of making tea with loose tea leaves

How baking makes the house smell good. (And the deliciousness of devouring Madeleines).

Quiet time in the evenings to read, and to collage some “mail art” and create with molding paste, which is a fun, new medium I’m learning about.

Discovering what interests my son:  especially the color yellow, and shoes in general.

Surprises and beauty in nature, architecture, and daily life:

Hope your summer is going well, and there are many amazing moments in each day.

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