Category Archives: Discovery and Exploration

August 13, 2008

exploring new zealand

We took our son Luke to New Zealand for seven weeks of exploring when he was 13 months old. I don’t know how much of the Kiwi culture he absorbed during that time, but he did display an innate ability to take long naps in a backpack during six hour hikes, to snooze through a helicopter ride with glacier landing, and to make it just fine sleeping through the night in any manner of pack-n-play, port-a-cot, or whatever sort of crib the bed and breakfast of the day could provide – so long as he was nuzzled in with his favorite blanket. And his parents learned that babies require a lot less gear than they previously had thought, that they are remarkably adaptable to drastic time changes and the obliteration of the daily routine, and that journeying to new parts of the globe with the newest member of the family only enhances the sense of adventure and camaraderie that motivates us to travel in the first place. Oh, and that those pull-down swinging bassinettes are an absolute God-send on overnight flights… as are portable DVD players… and the ability to breastfeed a toddler on a mountaintop or in a pub with minimal embarrassment. And the trip was enough of a success that, three months later, we took him to the Italian Alps for more of the same.

a globehopping little citizen

I realized then and there that our then-23-month-old, Milo is a true Little Citizen of the World. We were in a (perfectly engineered for strollers) taxi in London, heading for Heathrow, about to take the final leg of our 5-week journey back home to San Francisco.

“Milo”, I said, “do you know where we’re going now?”
“AIRPORT!” he cried (we had discussed this at length previously).
“That’s right honey, but do you know where our plane will be going?”
“Madrid!”
“No sweetie-pie, we’ve been there already. Where do you think we’re going now?”
“Berlin?!!”
“Nope, not this time! We’re going home to see Penelope (our beagle).”
“New York!”
“Uh..no. We live in San Francisco. Remember?”
“Airplane go Denver?”
“No Milo. We’re going home to San Francisco. Remember your bed there with the monkey mobile?”
“Mino’s hotel big bed?”
“Not exactly – we’re going to our house in San Francisco with your own big-kid bed. Remember that?”
Milo wide-eyed, “No.”

alpacas in peru

My parents have joined a group of doctors and their spouses to build a partnership with a hospital and an orphanage in Cajamarca, Peru. They visit every couple of years, and over time they have developed quite a list of vendors of medical supplies that donate excess inventory for the hospital and a variety of donors who provide all types of supplies for the children in the orphanage. The doctors, including my father, go and train the local doctors on how to use the latest techniques and employ the latest in materials and medications in their surgeries at the local hospital. My mother has become involved in working with some of the spouses to build a relationship with an orphanage. The group over the years has provided the children with many supplies, including clothing, computers, books, etc. And they always manage to have a little fun during each visit. For example, this most recent trip they took all of the kids out to a movie and had a cake and ice cream party.

It all started when a friend of my father, originally from Cajamarca, had a vision of wanting to not only help his home town, but also to share his culture with his friends and colleagues in St. Louis. Over time it has built to be quite an operation, and they have set up a non-profit to accept the donations, etc. The trips have become for my parents much anticipated and cherished vacations full of music, laughter, dancing, and great food.

I was delighted to be able to facilitate sending some of our excess inventory from Tea’s Peru Collection from Fall ’07 on the trip that happened this summer. Alpacas are featured on a few of the pieces, including a fun graphic tee. The kids were incredibly excited to show the American ladies that they had some actual alpacas. The picture above features two of the boys from the orphanage posing with their local alpacas. Their house mother is in the background talking with the alpacas to ensure that they behaved for the cameras.

It has been a joy for me to watch my parents celebrate Peru so enthusiastically for many years, and it warmed my heart to see the kids with their alpacas.

dutch tulips

Our most recent family holiday was a long weekend in Holland to see the tulips in bloom.  We arrived a little too late in the season to see all the tulips in the fields, but we had a wonderful day at the Keukenhof gardens just southeast of Amsterdam. It’s a great place to visit with kids.  There are tulips from all over the world, as well as a wonderful petting zoo and fun playground for the kids.  Olivia loved taking photos of everything and both kids are pretty silly when we take photos of them!  Our favorite tulip was the ‘ice cream’ tulip.  We took our bikes along and went riding every day.  Holland is the perfect place to cycle, especially with young children.  It’s flat, easy riding and there are bike lanes and trails everywhere.  We stayed along the coast and were able to do some beautiful rides each day along with our daily ride into town to do our grocery shopping.  We even got to watch some gliders taking off and landing.  Olivia just received a new bike with gears for Easter and was really excited to be able to ride along next to us.  She declared she loved Holland because she got to ride her bike on the streets in town like an adult.  D and I ride our bikes through Brussels, but there are not as many bike lanes and it is too dangerous for us to let Olivia to the same.  When cycling in Brussels, I use my Dutch made “Bakfiets” which allows both kids to sit in a box in front of the bike.  It’s big and heavy, but very secure and I take the kids to school in it as long as it’s 10 degrees centigrade (about 50 degrees F) outside…and not raining!

We had a wonderful time in Holland and plan to return next year with all of D’s family.  We want to go at the time of the Tulip Parade which travels through the entire tulip producing region and is held when all the fields are in bloom.  And of course, we’ll take our bikes!

We’re off now for a two week camping trip to the Italian Dolomites.  It will be the first time we’ve taken the kids camping and they are so excited.  It’s already been an adventure getting all the gear and figuring out what to pack. But no more time to write about that now.  It will have to wait for our return!

August 12, 2008

inspiring greece

As an employee of Tea, it is evident how much emphasis is put on making the foreign familiar. I have seen the world through my Tea travel allowance in both the countries of Costa Rica (2007) and now Greece (2008). This program brings us all closer together as employees since we have the ability to venture to distant lands and experience the beauty of new people.

I decided to visit Greece in June as I was fascinated by the history as well as the seaside landscape and warm people. My first stop was in Athens where narrow roads and stone walkways winded throughout the urban sprawl. The Acropolis was a strong sight sitting upon a hill. The columns and ancient art were magical.

I then took a ferry to the island of Mykonos where I thoroughly enjoyed the beaches and white and blue buildings. The people were fun, fashionable and full of life. The pita sandwiches and olives were amazing.

The village of Oia in Santorini (my next stop pictured above) was truly dreamy. The Caldera was breathtaking. The steep cliffs and winding stairs were an architectural feat. My room was actually built into a cave, a sort of rustic paradise. The white and blue domed churches were numerous and incredible. The local art vendors were a real treat. I ended up purchasing some painted dinner plates in hues of blues, greens, whites, and yellows. The scrolled design will always remind me of my time there. I was lucky enough to meet a local man who grew up on the island. He was one with the sea and took me out on his boat to see the volcano and swim in the ocean hot springs. The black rock and red sulfur mud reminded me of the power of the earth….a memory I will not soon forget. The old ruins of a castle, the sunsets, and the wine country were truly incredible. I loved meeting the locals and sharing in their meal traditions. A restaurant owner shared about his life on the island as well as his distant relatives in America. We learned from each other and I shared my experiences too.

My final stop was Crete where the mountains intersect with valleys of olive trees and amazing coastline. I was amazed with the diverse landscape. I remember driving by an elderly man sitting at his family owned olive oil stop. It was evident that the olive trees were a way of life for him. I made a stop in Hania where I had an authentic lunch in a little restaurant tucked away in the pebble paved streets. When I walked into the place the floor was sunken low and tiled in a square shape. I learned that it used to be an ancient Turkish bath! What a cool place to have lunch!

Greece is full of life in both the present and the past. The art, music, food, warm people, architecture, and water were more than I could have dreamed about. There was truly so very much to be inspired by!

August 10, 2008

turkish carpets

We had been in Istanbul, Turkey, for only a few days and already knew that we stood out. When the carpet sellers who lined the streets of the Sultanahmet, the city’s ancient historic district, saw us from the back, they took note of my husband’s close-cropped hair and yelled out, “Soldier! Soldierman! Mr. Army, Mr. Navy! Come inside and see a carpet. Maybe your pretty wife will like one, you buy it for her! Maybe not. You don’t like, you need not buy, but come look!”

But when they got a good look at our fronts, with the small, wriggling bundle strapped to my husband’s chest, they changed tactics. As soon as they saw our infant son held fast in his baby carrier – his eyes open wide and bright, taking in the extraordinary and beautiful city surrounding him – they took a slightly less aggressive approach.

One man walked toward us with his arms open wide and asked, “Please, excuse me, may I kiss your baby?” Others pulled photos of children and grandchildren from their wallets and invited us into the shop to see still more. Yet another seller asked us to come into his shop to see some carpets that he was sure our son would adore.

“Your son,” the man said, giving us his best sales pitch, “he may not remember Turkey. I don’t think so. But you will help him remember. Maybe the carpet will help him remember. I think, maybe yes.”

Memory. This was a small point of contention with us. When we told friends and family of our plans to travel with our son to Turkey, our announcement was sometimes met with disapproval – and always with many questions: What will he eat? Where will he sleep? Won’t the plane bother his ears? And the most-asked question: Why go through the hassle of taking the baby at all, when he won’t remember the trip?

It was only this last question that we had some difficulty answering, wondering a bit about the answer ourselves.

On our last full day in the city, we went to explore the Aya Sofya basilica. The baby had thus far been fascinated by Istanbul and, on this day, was just as intrigued with the immense interior of this building.

Enchanted by the history and majesty of the former church/mosque, none of us saw the schoolchildren approach. But all of a sudden, there they were – 20 or more – swarming around my husband and son, reaching for my son’s hands and kissing his face.

At first, I was a little worried that the baby would be unable to handle the onslaught. As a typical 8-month-old, he is fairly accustomed to being adored. But not like this. Still, when I looked over at him, to see if I needed to intervene, he was laughing so hard his whole body shook. He reached out his hands to touch as many of the children as he could reach. His delight in seeing so many smiling faces looking up at him was palpable.

All of a sudden, a young boy in the crowd noticed me and asked in heavily accented English, “You are mother? Excuse me, thank you, what is the baby name?”

“His name is Chet.” I replied.

“Chet.” He repeated the name a few times, working it around his mouth as if trying a new, intense flavor. “My name is Kerem. Hello, Chet Mother.”

The other children took note of the introduction and followed suit. I soon heard shouts of other names.

“I am Nazim!”

“My name is Berol.”

“Hello, my name is Alev, thank you, goodbye.”

“Kadifah, hello, how are you?”

And then a little girl with gorgeous dark eyes looked up at me and mischievously said, “My name is … my name is Jennifer Lopez!” The children laughed wholeheartedly at the joke, and my son laughed with them, the echoes joyfully reverberating in the great dome of the building. I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that my son’s first trip to Istanbul had offered him more than many – and even we – had thought possible.

True, he may not remember the specifics of the mosaics in the Aya Sofya or the grounds of the Topkapi Palace. But I believe that the most important aspects of any journey like this stay with you whether you are 8 months or 80 years old.

This trip included children’s laughter, the same as at home and yet still able to make a powerful impression no matter where you happen to hear it. Add the sublime mystery of ancient buildings, full of colors and echoes that stir the heart and mind. And, most importantly, the spirit of adventure that wells up inside as you stare out on a new and fascinating landscape – perhaps even better when held aloft in a baby carrier – and anticipating the magic of whatever comes next.

No carpet is needed to remind my son of that.

August 8, 2008

cultural roots and good tv

One recent Sunday morning, my son, husband and I were gathered around the breakfast table enjoying pancakes. The television was on across the room, and a new show came on called “Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe.” Wolfe, as I learned later, is an internationally acclaimed photographer, and of course the series host. The episode captured us immediately with its imagery of a country familiar to our family—India.

My husband’s father is originally from southwest India, a state called Kerala which is known for it’s lush greenery, tropical weather, beautiful backwaters, and—as locals love to boast—almost 100 percent literacy. My father-in-law Tom came to the U.S. in the mid-1960’s for his medical residency, where he met his future wife Linda, a Chicago native with German and Norwegian roots. Tom and Linda eventually settled in Texas, where they had four children. Their family traveled to India many times when the kids were young. Having made the trip once already with my husband (before we had our son), I have great respect for my in-laws trekking across the world with four young children!

As we watched the show from our table, my husband and I tried to make conversation with our son about the connection he had to the people on the screen. Some were bathing or washing their clothes in the Ganges river, others were riding bikes or driving rickshaws, and still others were engaged in deep prayer in honor of an annual Hindu pilgrimage. We said things like, “Grandpa is from that country; it’s called India.” My husband also told a story about how when he would visit as a child, his family had “helpers” who would wash their clothes just like we were seeing on the show—beating the clothes against the rocks, a rhythmic but effortful job. I was reminded of my trip there, where I felt so fortunate to meet my husband’s grandfather shortly before he died. He had been instrumental in India’s push for independence, a contemporary of Gandhi, and later a Congressman and vocal advocate for education in his home state.

And then something small but meaningful happened. While to me, these people on the screen were fabulously interesting, they looked nothing like me or the family I had grown up with, and so I felt content to know that my son might feel a connection even if I didn’t. But it occurred to me that my husband might feel very differently; so I turned to him and asked, “Do you feel connected to them?” His face grew quiet, serious and almost sad, and he said simply, “Yes.”

I don’t expect that my son will feel the same subtle sadness or internal conflict that my husband and his father feel – a sense of having a toe or a foot in one culture while the rest of his body is in another. However, sensing how important it is to expose our son to his history, his family, and the many inputs that combined to make him who is he is, I see now that raising him with regular reminders about his ancestors is more than just a fun or different exercise. It will be vitally important to the quiet places in our hearts that we don’t always know are there and a deserving tribute to the people who came before us.

daily conversations

I don’t go around thinking of ways to make sure my kids appreciate cultural differences while avoiding judgments and prejudice. I don’t have to – my daily conversations with them, or more importantly, what I overhear them saying to each other, reminds me that teaching my children to respect our differences is a daily process, something achieved in small steps during every aspect of our lives.
Parker asks: “Mommy, why am I pink and you’re brown?”
Owen observes: “That lady talks weird. Is she speaking Spanish?”
After Martin Luther King Day celebrations at school, they both want to know: “What does it mean to be black?”
The first one is the easiest. “Our family has people of all shades in it, and we love each other even though we don’t look the same. Families are about love, not skin color.” I list all the pink and brown aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents who love them. I tell them they’re lucky to have all different kinds of people in their family.
The second one would be easier if Owen wasn’t using his “outside” voice and the woman wasn’t standing next to us. I swallow down the embarrassment. “She’s just speaking differently than we do, but we shouldn’t call people ‘weird’ just because they’re different.” Now, I have to admit my ignorance, which I figure is better than getting it wrong. “I’m not sure what language she’s speaking, but people from different countries speak different languages. That’s why it’s important to learn more than one language,” I tell him, “so you can talk to all kinds of people.”
I have to think quickly on the third, and toughest, question. The problem is, I’m not even sure what it means to be black. I don’t think the kids, at 6 and 4, are ready for my discussion on race as a social construction that has little real-world value – even my college students peer at me in confusion when I bring this up. In fact, when I’m talking to the kids I try to avoid terms like “black” and “white” to describe people because kids take things so literally, I know they won’t understand that pink people are called white and brown people are called black. And what about medium brown people like Owen, or people like Parker who are pink in the winter, light brown in the summer, and always blonde?
I decide on the simplest version of the truth. “Being a black person just means that some of your family members have brown skin. But what’s most important is the kind of person you are, whether you’re nice to other people, whether you try to learn new things, whether you play and have fun and are happy.”
“Are you black, Mommy?” Yes.
“Is Daddy?” No.
“Are we?” Yes. (Kind of, I think but don’t say it – we’ll get into the complexities later. Also, I’ve learned that I should never answer a question that wasn’t asked, and they didn’t ask whether they were half-black. I knew all those episodes of Law & Order would come in handy).
They look at me in silence, and I’m worried that more questions are coming, that, like when we discussed God and death, one answer would only lead to three or four more unanswerable questions to which I don’t have answers.
After a long moment, Owen says, “Okay, mommy.” Parker echoes his big brother, and they move on to more pressing matters.
“Can we have mac-and-cheese for dinner?”

visiting tokyo and beijing

Hello, my name is Andrew and I am a husband and father of two boys, 7 and 10. My wife and I have been traveling with the boys since they were born. Since my wife was in grade school, she wanted to visit Japan and see Fuji-San, Mt. Fuji. So, when a business trip came up to Tokyo and Beijing recently, I took the whole family. The pictures of the boys in their Yukata robes were taken at a Ryokan in Kyoto. These Japanese B&B’s are extremely warm and friendly places. And, as an alternative to the skyscrapers of Tokyo, they offer a bit of the old Japan that is sorely missing in the big cities. This Ryokan had traditional cedar tubs that are filled, and overflowing, at all times. So, a tub before dinner was a must! The kids loved to learn about foods, the temples and even the architecture. Of course, the big excitement was for the Samurai swordsman!

Our trip continued to Beijing. After a day in China, our ten year old deftly noted, ‘Dad, China is the opposite of Japan’. The calm and contained was replaced with the frenetic and cacophonous. Noodles were replaced with shark fin soup and chicken feet. Clear blue warm skies turned to coal soot and down jackets. And, yet, the newness of the environment was the tread that ran through the trip. No doubt our kids experience was colored by their parents open hearts in Japan — and global concern and fear in China. We ended up leaving Beijing a day early and returning to Japan for a romping day and a half at Tokyo Disneyland. Yes, it looks just like Anaheim. Except instead of sugar everywhere, the Japanese eat rice cakes and bean paste (the Snickers marketing team simply hasn’t cracked the code on Japan!).

The last picture of our family next to an iceberg was taken a few weeks ago in Alaska. Just note: it’s summer — I don’t think I’d like to be in that same spot in November. More on Alaska (and the bear mace we had to carry in the bush) in my next post!

little italy in our kitchen

I have fond memories of cooking along-side my father. Perhaps I was the sous-chef, but I felt like I was a part of something significant. I can distinctly recall the smell of fresh tomatoes simmering in basil, olive oil, garlic and red wine. My father always told me to add just a touch of salt to bring out the garlic and just a bit of sugar to counter the acidity of the tomatoes. There is nothing quite like the taste of marinara sauce that has simmered away all day. There is such love in the dish. It is that kind of love for Italian cuisine that my father has taught me to pass on to my family as well. It is not just the Italian love for food; it is a love of all that is good in life. It is about savoring the moment whether that moment is a soft breeze that passes swiftly along your cheek, the smell of a newly blooming gardenia, the genuine smile of a child, or the pure taste of fresh pasta sauce.

My father did not simply bring Italy into our kitchen; he actually sent all of his children to experience Italy itself as well. My sisters and I studied abroad in Sienna during our years at Villanova, while my brother, mother and father are currently visiting Tuscany as I type. During my stay there I immersed myself in Italian culture. I read the renowned works of Dante. I studied Italian works of art from the Etruscans to the Renaissance Period. I walked along the picturesque streets of Rome, Florence and Venice. I painted watercolors of Sienna’s hillside, nearby valleys, as well as the quaint homes and side streets. And I learned enough of Italian to shop, dine, and of course, buy my favorite flavor of gelato. It was a time that I will always cherish.

Today, my two-year old daughter, Hope, is my little sous-chef. Although she is certainly limited by her age in the kitchen, that does not stop her curiosity. She does not know many words, but one of her favorites besides ‘mommy,’ ‘daddy,’ and ‘more,’ is ‘pasta.’ As I blanche the tomatoes one by one she screams, “Pasta!” When the tomatoes cook down and I begin to add the other ingredients she shouts, “See!” I then place her on a tiny stepping stool so she can view the luscious red mixture. Near dinner, when I begin to boil the spaghetti, she knows that a delicious meal will soon be hers. But before the pasta is nearly done, she walks toward me, gives me a hug and whispers, “Taste?” The image of her mouth covered in velvety red sauce is one of my favorite mental pictures. Someday I imagine her walking along the simple streets of Sienna, perhaps on her way to purchase a gelato or to paint a lovely picture of a quiet side-street, or maybe, just maybe, she simply wants to take in the scenery.