Nomads Christmas: Part 3 – Oregon

Last leg of our trip and we took a quick flight into Portland.  Home.

We celebrated second Christmas and spent some quality family time that was long overdue.

So good to relax by the fire, and let the cousins make up for lost time.  New Years Eve was spent with these cuties, teaching them about make up.  Perfect night.

I also try to squeeze in a few “normal” life activities when we are home.  This trip, we made it to story time at our local library, my kids are still surprised when it’s in English. Visiting friends, going to the movies, some beach time and new fun games rounded out our final leg.

It’s never easy to get back on that plane, knowing it will be 6 months before you get to see these moments again.    We are used to the traveling by now, but the saying goodbye is still just as hard.   We cherish the people in our lives who have stayed with us on this journey, who host us and send us care packages.  Being an expat is a roller coaster of excitement, sadness, guilt and a million other emotions in between.   We appreciate all the love.

We red-eyed back to Cartagena and I thought about all the hours my children were traveling.  Planes, road trips and back again, and not one fuss about it.   If they take away this one skill, to learn to love traveling, this will have been a great success.

Nomad Christmas: Part 2 – Santa Cruz, CA

Our road trip north was a trial run for an epic national parks road trip I hope to have sometime soon.   Leaving from Malibu, we made our way towards Santa Cruz.

 

I put together a travel guide for both my kids for our road trip.  I included a kid-friendly map, some pictures all about the State of California and some road trip scavenger hunt sheets so they can keep a look out for what they have seen instead of being glued to iPads the whole trip.

First leg was smooth, we were able to see some of the Thomas Fire devastation along the way, it was terrible to see so much scorched land.  We stopped in Pismo Beach for a quick lunch of In N Out and a park pit stop.  Perfect way to get the wiggles out.

 

Upon arriving, we got to spend time with one of our favorite families.  Thank you so much for hosting us and mostly loving on my children.

We wasted no time exploring, first stop was Monterey Bay Aquarium, a family favorite.

 

I get asked a lot why I support certain animals facilities and not others.  The plain fact is they vary so much from one to another – whether it be a focus on conservation and education vs just making money (ahem, SeaWorld) Monterey does a fantastic job being a leader in Ocean Health and especially the impact of plastics.

And next up was seeing the tall trees of Nicene State Park. Bonus points for finding a swing over the creek.  It was wonderful to smell the fresh air that you really only get in the middle of the forest.

 

I did get to try a few new things before the year’s end as well.  One was visiting a float spa.  Basically you float in a pod of perfectly temperate salt water in the absence of stimuli.   It took me a few minutes to quiet my mind, but I was pleasantly surprised at how relaxing it was and how much quality thinking I was able to do.  Thank you Sage Float Spa of Capitola.

 

It was a quick few days but such good ones for the soul.   Family, fun, and all the feels.   Next up, the final leg in Oregon.

Nomad’s Christmas – Part 1 : Los Angeles

We scheduled a pretty full holiday on our way to the West Coast this year, and it was just as wonderful as we’d hoped.   Our first stop was Los Angeles.   One thing I get asked constantly is how I travel with small kids.  I did write about it here, but also, it is the norm for our family now.   My kids are used to long lines, hauling bags, full flights and car rides.   I use that time to get them excited about what is coming and also reflect on what we have just done.

With no time to waste we booked an appt. Santa,  got right into cookie making, last-minute shopping and some much-needed family time.

With such a late start to our holiday break,  it felt a little tight trying to fit all these much-loved activities in before Christmas, but keeping these traditions alive is so very important to me.   Christmas Eve we roasted S’mores by the campfire and read The Night Before Christmas.   Of course, Christmas morning was full of excitement.

We spent the rest of our days playing at the park, practicing some bebe-shooting skills and generally enjoying the mid 70’s weather.  Cake pops included.  It was bliss.

Los Angeles isn’t for everyone, but we are lucky enough to enjoy a small slice that most people don’t get to see.  In the beautiful mountains above Malibu, we listen to the birds sing, get to see all the stars at night and relax with the peace of more trees than people.  It makes coming home something we all look forward to.

Next up, our Road Trip to Northern California.

High Tea: Cartagena City Guide

I was lucky enough to get invited to my first High Tea.  The beautiful Intercontinental Cartagena is trying out a few new menu options for guests, and we were able to test them out.  What fun to drink tea and eat cake in the middle of the afternoon? This should be a regular thing.

If that perfectly sized chocolate cake makes your mouth water, it should, because it was amazing.  Also, there may have been cocktails…

Afterwards, we were treated with a Cartagena sunset, I will never tire of these either.

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The Caribbean Christmas Spirit

There is no shortage of holiday spirit in Cartagena.  They are getting ready for Christmas long before Halloween and it only ramps us the closer you get.   Lights, trees, so many decorations, it’s really a festive place to be.  We watched the parade and lighting of the Christmas Tree in the Bay of Bocagrande last weekend, and it really kicked off the season.

And let’s talk about the Christmas trees.  They are in every lobby and just as beautiful and grand as they come.

I do have moments where I miss the cold weather, the smell of a fresh-cut pine in my front room, snuggling up in Ugg Booths, soft blankets with a cup of cocoa (I am currently in a tank top and flip-flops), but I know that is waiting for me soon.   Today, I will enjoy the beautiful lights that adorn each street of the city.

It is interesting to see how other countries celebrate holidays and I have to admit I am so thankful that Colombia loves an over the top Christmas.   We’ve only just begun.

 

Playing the Tourist

With family visiting, we got the change to revisit some of our favorite places in Cartagena.  The list is getting longer and it’s so fun to show off some of the special places we love…..  Here is a photo recap of our past week in no particular order:

 

From Thanksgiving to lazy island beach days and just about everything in between, we ate good food, enjoyed good company and had a few adventures to remember along the way.  It’s easy to love this time of year.

 

The Importance of Visitors

This isn’t a guilt trip, it’s a welcome mat.  We are currently very thankful to have family in town and what a difference it makes in how you feel about being away from “home” during the holidays.

Being able to share your new adventures is a therapeutic experience.  Showing people where you shop, the new foods you love, and the best ice cream shops you have found feels like your many pieces are back together.

With a few of our first visitors, I watched my children understand that moving overseas didn’t mean abandoning everything and everyone we loved, it meant making the borders a little wider, taking a few longer flights and really appreciating those who would journey off the beaten path to see us.

When we were deciding where we wanted to live, we debated the many aspects of any given city.  One major positive that Cartagena offered was the Caribbean destination that I knew many people would be equally a little nervous about and also intrigued by.

Over and over again, I have heard many of you say to me that my photos tell a different story of Cartagena than what they imagined.  While there is still a lot more to come, I assure you the beauty and wonder of this little coastal town is just as picturesque as these photos.

So for all of you looking to have a guided but slightly wild adventure, we welcome you to come enjoy this experience with us.

Third Culture Kids & Grief

I have been slowly reading this book, in between a few others for the past 6 months.  Before we started this process, I had a million questions, many of them I wrote about here.   Continuing to understand what happens to many Third Culture Kids (TCK) and Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCK) has been very eye-opening for me.  This book has made it around many of the expat circles, but before you are an expat, you don’t think much about it.

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Sometimes we know we are going through something, we have changed, we have grown, we have experienced some heightened emotions, but there has been so much change to pinpoint just one thing.

I do not know for sure how long we will be here, I do not know where we are going next, I do not know if we will ever live overseas with our children again, but I do know that this experience has changed us all.  Understanding the emotions, the coping mechanisms, and the developmental differences in children who have lived in a host culture has been enlightening.

We have tried to adopt many of the Colombian customs, but I also have tried to keep hold of those really important ones from home.   It isn’t easy, it comes with failed attempts and mom guilt.  There are more uncomfortable moments than I could possibly count, but everyday feels like we “get it” a little bit more.   I don’t think my kids feel Colombian but I see how they understand the world from a changing point of view.   They have seen true poverty, they have learned to make friends without needing to speak the same language,  and most importantly, that no matter how far, the importance of keeping close relationships.

Something I read that surprised me.  Unresolved grief and losses.  

“TCK’s don’t lose one thing at a time; they lose everything at once.  And there’s no funeral.  Or, if they’re sad to leave friends and family in their passport country, they’ll soon be caught up in the busyness of adjusting to a new land…”

This topic is particularly interesting to me because my mind often tries to find these hidden buzz killers.  If I can identify the struggles, I can help work through them.  They categorize these losses into possessions, relationships, lifestyle and a few others.  Perhaps the one that haunts me is Loss of past that wasn’t.  I talked a lot about the sacrifices we made here but also what we hoped for when we made this decision. We couldn’t live in the same home forever and live out an adventure overseas at the same time.  We had to choose, and no matter which choice we made, there was going to be a loss.

“Though third culture kids have a wealth of tangible and intangible realities that give their lives meaning, many of the worlds they have known are far away.   Therefore, what they loved and lost in each transition remains invisible to others or unnamed by themselves.  Such losses create a special challenge.  Hidden or unnamed losses most often are unrecognized, and therefore the TCK’s grief for them is also unrecognized – and unresolved.   It’s hard to mourn appropriately without defining the loss.

These hidden losses also are recurring ones.  The exact loss may not repeat itself, but the same types of loss happen again and again, and the unresolved grief accumulates. These hidden losses vary from large to small….Contrary to obvious losses, there are no markers, no rites of passage recognizing them as they occur – no recognized way to mourn.  Yet each hidden loss relates to the major human needs we all have of belonging, feeling significant to others and being understood.” 

Our children have had to learn how to process a lot of good-byes.  Not only did they say good-bye to their home, family and friends, some favorite foods and places when they moved overseas, but you forget there are plenty of good-byes when you get there as well.  Many overseas positions for families are 2-3 years, so depending on the friends you make in your new host country, there are still more good-byes all along the way.  I am one who hates good-byes, I avoid them until the very last-minute and then I cry my eyes out.   However, I do know that saying a proper good-bye really helps us move forward in a healthy way.

This post wasn’t necessarily meant to be a downer, but sometimes it’s easy to only see the glamour of living overseas: traveling to new places and exploring new restaurants and experiences.  However, there are a lot of emotions that come along with it.  Good days and bad ones and lots of both in the same days!  I believe it is important to discuss both sides of this coin, and while we love the wonderful opportunities we have been given, I remember that my children did not choose this, and while I hope they are glad we did, I feel very responsible for how they process this experience.

 

Cartagena: Ángeles Somos

Ángeles Somos is a tradition typically celebrated in Cartagena on November 1st.  Today the children wear all white to school and along with lots of music and singing, they learned how to make the traditional Coastal soup, Sancocho.

Here is the recipe via allrecipes.com:

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 6 chicken leg quarters
  • 2 plantains, peeled and cut into 6 pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled
  • 4 pounds fresh cassava roots, cut into 6 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon mild paprika, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 pound tomatoes, chopped

Directions

  1. Place the water into a large pot, and add 1 tablespoon salt , chopped cilantro (coriander), garlic, chicken legs, plantains, and 1 onion. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 20 minutes. Add the potatoes and cassava to the pot, and continue to cook for another 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
  2. While the chicken and vegetables are cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry the onions in the hot oil, and season with cumin, paprika, and salt. When the onions are limp, stir in the tomatoes, and remove from heat.
  3. Spoon the chicken stew into bowls, and serve topped with the tomato onion sauce.

Halloween Past

I thought I would walk down memory lane for a minute….

My little guy….

and my little gal…..

and all the fun we have had this time of year…  pumpkins patches, hayrides and trick or treating.  I really do love the holidays, despite the amount of energy it takes to pull them off.  Here in Colombia, Halloween is very much celebrated, children wear costumes and trick or treat down the center street of the peninsula while the door men hand out candy.  It’s such a city-kids style of celebrating, but we will take it.  The schools also help to celebrate with parties and lots of extra fun events.

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Happy Halloween!  Here’s to tomorrow’s sugar hangover.

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Cartagena City Guide: Vivarium del Caribe

A new Vivarium opened just outside Cartagena last month.  I didn’t even know what a Vivarium was.  We had the chance to check it out last weekend.

Thanks to Wikipedia:  A vivarium (Latin, literally for “place of life”; plural: vivaria or vivariums) is an area, usually enclosed, for keeping and raising animals or plants for observation or research. Often, a portion of the ecosystem for a particular species is simulated on a smaller scale, with controls for environmental conditions.

We drove out to the country, and met with a very nice guide who happily took us on a private tour of the facility.  60 mil pesos (around $20 USD)  for the whole family and we were in.  They just opened to the public although they have been in existence for some time.

 

This vivarium focused on reptiles, amphibians and fish.

 

Piranhas, Mata Mata turtles, rattle snakes…. this was not necessarily my element.  However, my kids loved it.   Many of these animals reside in either Colombia or the surrounding Amazonian areas.  Next was feeding the turtles, this is a little more my speed.  Their favorite treat are these purple flowers.

 

If you know my son, you know how alligators and crocodiles have been a favorite for a long time.  This part of the tour made the top of his list.   We saw all the way from the eggs to the nursery and on up to the large crocodiles.  Highlight was watching the staff feed them.

 

This was the grand finale….

 

I struggle with these facilities sometimes.  I wonder if the education and exposure can offset putting animals into captivity in facilities that are sometimes not up to par.  I do believe that understanding animals is the key to saving them and the habitat they need to survive.   The staff here were very knowledgable about the animals and what issues they faced.  Thank you Vivarium del Caribe for the educational visit.

***UPDATE****

If you would like to visit the Vivarium, here is a map and visitor information.

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Growing Up Expat: Milestones in Another Culture

Just a few days ago, my oldest lost another front tooth.  It isn’t his first and yet, with each baby tooth lost, he looks a little bit older.  I look at this tiny tooth that we are putting under his pillow for the tooth fairy and I can’t help but reminisce.

I remember the first time I saw that little chomper on my tiny 6 month old.  I remember the many nights that tooth kept us all awake and the nearly 1000 times I’ve brushed it.  That tooth made up the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen and enjoyed all the special donut runs we have made together.  I love that little tooth.

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These milestones are important.  They make up the magic that is parenthood and childhood.   But what happens when the traditions around milestones are different?  Do you keep the old or embrace the new?

He ended up losing that tooth on the bus ride to school.  His school counselor told me that in Colombia there is no tooth fairy, say what?  There is Ratón Pérez.  He is a little mouse that brings coins in exchange for baby teeth.  Harmless enough.

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Learning what customs to introduce and what to leave behind can be sensitive.  We feel attached to our versions of childhood experiences and yet we moved to another place to teach our children the many ways people live around the world.   I found this book where the Tooth Fairy and Raton Perez learn to work together, bridging the gap.  I appreciate being able to integrate this experience while keeping hold of some of those traditions.  It helps our kids understand our host culture, be familiar with the references that other kids may mention.  It also gives our kids an opportunity to discuss differences, be them small for now.