If you’re considering visiting Viet-Nam, a must-see is the lovely coastal town of Hoi An located in Central Viet Nam.
The best way to arrive is to take a train from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.I recommend the sleeper train, it’s a bit cozy but you get amazing views as the train passes through rice fields and vast flatlands with water buffalo.
The people are charming and less likely to upsell foreigners.There are abundant tailor shops and art galleries that won’t break your budget. One of my favorite shops is Hoai Ngap (Reaching Out )Handcrafts, a gift shopped filled with fair trade crafts made by artisans with disabilities.
The cobble stone streets make it a pleasure for walking or biking amidst the ancient Japanese and Chinese style architecture.Kids will love drinking fresh fruit shakes on the beach or even taking a lantern making class in town.At night, the town is picturesque with several outdoor cafes and strings of colorful silk lanterns illuminating the streets.
The women at the market place will tempt you with fresh marigolds and lotus flowers and even offer you fresh slices of mangosteen and sweet lychees.
Officially Hoi An is listed as a UNSECO heritage site.Unofficially I can tell you this place has a lot of heart.Look for my auntie and grandmother who make banh mi (baguette sandwiches) with a slammin’ secret sauce.Their stand is near the south entrance of the marketplace on the river. Grab sandwiches to go and hop on the ferry for a breezy tour of the scenic Hoi An River.
The longer I do this Mom thing, the more I realize that no two Moms do things exactly alike. For example, many Moms record their child’s first years in a baby book. Other Moms squirrel away their baby’s clothes, socks and shoes to help them remember just how small tiny really is. Others spend their child’s first years double-fisting it with a video camera in one hand and a trusty digital camera in the other. We captured our son’s first years with a map of the United States.
Travel has always equaled memories for us so one of the first things we did when our son was born nearly two years ago was to hang a map of the US on our fridge. Each time we visit a new state with him, we color it in on the map. Visits to family and friends quickly took care of most of the Maine to Florida route. And a planned Winter trip to California will soon balance out the brightly-colored East coast. We also have plans to expand the map to reflect future international travels and the trip we took last Fall to London, Dublin and Belfast.
Although packing up our almost two-year-old toddler and heading out on the road sometimes makes us wonder about our own sanity, we wouldn’t trade the memories for anything in the world.
Last week a wonderful thing happened—our local representative from Barefoot Books (www.barefoot-books.com ) visited our son’s preschool.The entire lobby was canvassed with the most beautiful, diverse and intriguing books, music CDs, artwork and toys.It was all I could do to control my retail impulses.But that’s the great thing about buying books—no guilt!
With Halloween coming up quickly and the Holidays right around the corner, it’s fun for me to get in the gift-giving mood now.Like everyone else, our family has been impacted by the economy, so it feels smart to zero in on presents that help us celebrate our loved ones without going broke.Plus, there is something magical about buying and giving books to children.When I find a great story, I feel just as great about sharing it.Books are cost-effective, provide endless entertainment, and often generate opportunities for children and parents to discuss new topics that were inspired by the stories in greater depth.
I was doubly excited about Barefoot Books when I saw an entire table of titles with an international theme.Some were fables and legends lifted directly from other cultures, like Russia, Japan, India, France, Senegal and Polynesia.Others were focused more on teaching American children about foreign geographies, histories, cultures and languages.Some of my favorites combined multiple short stories into single volumes, such as “Grandmothers’ Stories: Wise Woman Tales from Many Cultures,” which included a read-along CD narrated by Olympia Dukakis.Another colorful book, called “Elephant Dance,” is a perfect fit for our family, because it is about a little boy “interviewing” his grandfather who comes from India.
There are so many ways to introduce little ones to other cultures: food, movies, music, museums, and of course travel.From my perspective, all of those efforts are worthwhile and complemented perfectly by a bookshelf full of fun and interesting stories.I hope we’re fostering a curiosity about the world in our son as well as a love for reading.I also hope that both become lifelong passions that inspire him to run barefoot whenever he can.
Turks and Caicos is a peaceful Caribbean destination for families with small kids. Our week of vacation was spent on the island of Providenciales, where most Turks and Caicos resorts are to be found. Here’s a run-down of our top activities and outings with Grace, our 10 month old at the time. Although Grace would have been content to stay on the beach and eat sand all day, we got out and did quite a bit. We think these activities would be enjoyable for kids of all ages.
1. Iguana Island – This uninhabited island is a national park just a short boat ride from Providenciales, but with no domesticated cats and dogs the native iguanas have no predators and have taken over the island. They are harmless but fascinating and a short walk around the island’s boardwalk reveals interesting fauna as well as these dinosaur-type lizards.
2. Snorkeling – Obviously at 10 months Grace wasn’t up for this activity, but thankfully we had grandparents along. Our entire group (grandparents, Grace’s aunt and uncle, plus the three of us) took a boat trip to one of the incredible reefs off the island. We chose a glass-bottomed boat so even those who weren’t snorkeling (namely Grace and Grandma) still got a peek at the sea life below. The rest of us enjoyed some of the world’s best snorkeling in the warm clear blue waters.
3. Sapodilla Bay – Our resort was on the north side of the island on Grace Bay Beach. We rented a car for one day and drove to the south side of the island to experience the tranquil waters of Sapodilla Bay, affectionately called “Children’s Beach” by some. We had a little trouble finding the unmarked beach but finally found a small parking area which led us to the clear still water of the Bay. Unlike Grace Bay, which experiences small but constant waves, Sapodilla Bay is perfectly calm. The water is incredibly clear and shallow as well, making it possible to both see and touch bottom even 200 feet from shore. We floated, snorkeled, splashed, sat and soaked up the sun and the quiet of this hidden gem of a beach.
4. Conch Festival – Our visit to Turks and Caicos happened to coincide with the annual Conch Festival in November. Here all the best restaurants in town cook up their best conch (pronounced “conk”) recipes and for one price you get a ticket to try and vote for them all. Let’s just say there’s good conch and there’s really nasty conch. It was a packed event with live music and a conch blowing contest, in which my brother-in-law won second place!
5. Beach time – While there are diversions such as those listed above, the real reason to go to Turks and Caicos is for the beach. The sand is white and soft as flour. The water is warm and the waves lap the shore, never crash. Grace Bay Beach stretches for miles in either direction which makes for great walks. We saw families with kids of all ages and they all seemed to be having a wonderful time. For our family it was a tranquil, rejuvenating experience.
In May 2007, Emily and I headed north to explore the vast country of Norway in search of inspiration for Tea’s Fall 2008 collection.
This was my first visit to a Scandinavian country and I was expecting clean and modern aesthetic. Upon landing in this rich country, I was instantly taken by the enveloping evergreens and the woodwork, immaculate even in the airport.
I knew that this was a country that respected its natural resources and proudly celebrated them through craft. I could not wait to see what we would find…
We began our trip in Oslo, visiting museums and taking in Norwegian metropolitan culture.
One notable stop was the Norsk Folkemuseum, which featured 150 reconstructed townhouses, farm buildings, and churches from Norway’s past.
Here, we discovered a style of folk painting called Rosemaling (see below). This style of painting emerged in Norway around the late 18th century. Artists from the more rural areas in Norway would travel from home to home, painting interior walls and furniture. The homeowners would provide warm shelter and food for these artists in return for their services.
The color and detail of these scroll-like floral designs were captivating in beauty and impressive in coverage.
Later, we found that this painting style influenced embroidery in Norwegian folk costume. This discovery inspired us to come up with our own modern interpretation.
(Norwegian Folk Embroidery and Tea’s Inspired Print)
We also found that hand and loom weaving have been a native tradition in Norway, often done by families in times of celebration. There are many different types of traditional weaving, but 2 examples stood out, Billedvev (pictured here), a pictorial tapestry…
…and Rutevev, a geometric style (below).
These flat woven textiles were typically done in village homes found amongst the fjords. We were fascinated by the textures and colors in these textiles, so we headed north in search of some to make our own.
By chance and through a little help from friends that we met along the way, we ended up at the Stalheim Hotel.
A beautiful hotel set atop a 300 meter high cliff, not only does this hotel boast amazing views, it also has a spectacular collection of Norwegian crafts and a reconstructed folk village.
The varied patterns and color we found in Stalheim’s collection of textiles inspired us to interpret them in rich sweaters and bright plaids.
(Emily and me at the lookout from the Stalheim Hotel)
It is hard to be in fjord country without going on a fjord tour. We were in luck as we were close to one of Norway’s most famous, the Sognefjord. It is of the longest and deepest in Norway, an inlet jutting over 100 miles into the country and over 4000 feet deep.
You can’t deny the beauty and massive landscape surrounding you in Norway. We tried to capture this feeling through voluminous silhouettes in this Fall’s collection like the Aurland Plaid Dress and Fjord Coat (both pictured here).
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.
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!
For a great outdoor experience for kids in Tokyo, try Showa Memorial Park (Showa Kinen Koen). About a 45 minute train ride outside of Tokyo, this park is just another one of the happy surprises we keep finding on our Tokyo tours. I’m not sure that words can honestly describe Showa park — it is huge, and has such an array of offerings, there is no way to see everything in one visit. And to think, we almost didn’t make it. It was sunny when we left our house on a lovely spring day in April, but by the time we got to the train station for the park, it was freezing cold and pouring rain. We stopped for lunch and were going to head back home, but the rain stopped and the sun came out in time for us to play!
At the entrance gates, we paid our 400 Yen ($3.70) and made our way into what seemed to be sort of a typical Japanese public park. We headed to the left, knowing we wanted to explore the “Children’s Forest”. We first came upon the water park section, which was closed until the warmer weather arrives. But it looks like a great place to splash around during the hot summer. Further along we encountered the beginnings of the Children’s Forest where we found an installation of mosaic tiles in fantastical shapes, including some pretty scary snakes!
We continued on our way and found a colorful playground of gigantic rope hammocks for kids to bounce around on. Our daughter, Emilia, had a great time, but we big kids weren’t allowed to play on the hammocks, so after a little while we moved on. The best was yet to come — huge air-filled trampolines in the shape of clouds appeared around a little hill, and we went wild! I think Mike and I had as much fun bouncing as Emilia did. We both agreed that a place like this, astounding and wonderful as it is, would never be developed in the States. Too great an opportunity for injury and lawsuits. But what great fun we had!