Home is where….

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We’ve always traveled with all of our things. Our home shut up in boxes, shipped across oceans, unloaded and unpacked, bringing our memories and comforts with us. This is the first time we have traveled empty handed, leaving our home intact upon our island. 

It’s an interesting feeling to try and settle somewhere while leaving your home in full bloom seas away. 

In this new age of minimalism, of having less, maybe we need the little we hold onto even more? I have certainly shed with each incarnation, boxes falling by the wayside, things stolen, discarded, and I fully embraced Marie Condo’s wisdom of keeping only that which sparks joy. 

But it’s so much more than joy. It’s our life, tied up, sewn into, bound in our things. 

Some mornings on the island I would wake up before my very early rising children and sit as light sprinkled the dawn and I would be so moved by the beauty all around me. What we, what I had created. Little things, like the plants I nurtured and loved that grew alongside of me. Plants that are still there, being tended to by a friend. Plants I could not let go of.

The rugs I bought while living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as a young actress, so free and so wild, softening the floors beneath my feet.

The yarn painting hanging above our bed that I got at a Huichol Indian retreat on new years eve 1999, when everyone worried the world would end and I danced in the dawn.

The small metal sculptures of a man and woman I got in Santa Fe with a friend that sit upon our bookshelf. The same friend who would take me to Belize where I would meet a boy who would become the man that became my husband. 

Our things are our memories. 

It’s why I keep this blog, to remember. 

Now I sit in Kenya without my memories next to me, connecting me, threading me to my past. 

I am happy they are still on that mountaintop, waiting for me, for us. 

But my feet feel lonely. The walls feel bare. The bookcase sits empty.

 

Nesting

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This tiny bird has built a nest outside our bedroom window. For two days I watched her fly up with bits of fuzz, twigs, slowly building it. She’s in there now, laying her eggs, or perhaps they have been laid and she is with them, waiting.

We’ve been in Nairobi for just over 2 months now. I feel like this little bird, building our nest, the fragility of this expat life, just hanging by twigs it seems until we abandon it, leave for the next building up. Suspended time. 

I miss my island. Of all the places we could have landed though, Kenya is a soft one. 

We live in a valley surrounded by gardens, in a compound of twenty gorgeous stone homes. We have neighbors to borrow milk from. A playground where kids gather. A community to feel safe in. 

We had a monkey in our bedroom. We now keep close watch on the windows. 

It’s colder than I expected. Even now that the sun is stronger and warming the days, the evenings and nights can ride on a crisp wind. 

My daughter just had a week long school trip to the foot of Mount Kenya. She went on safari, helped a local school paint a mural, planted a garden for a woman and her child from a nearby village. She came home talking of the milky way and poverty and sunsets over mountains.

My son is over-the-moon to be here and loves the African way of life, with people coming and going and drivers and gardeners and guards and I watch him soaking up every moment. 

It’s funny how they surprise you. I thought it would be my son who missed the tranquility of home. I thought my daughter would spin into the chaos like a dance. But it’s she who watches the stars and thinks of currents and snow covered trees and he who is swirling. 

And me, I am this little bird, tending to my nest, keeping everyone warm, hanging on. 

Tender

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I left my dog at his new home today. The lovely people who asked to take him have been waiting anxiously, their arms looking to pet and lead. I’ve kept hold, not wanting to let go.

I finally had to let go.

He needed to be in the home that will be his forever now. 

My dog now lives on a beautiful vineyard here on our island, overlooking the sea, his backyard rows of purple grapes and blueberry bushes. 

The goodbyes have begun. The letting go has started. 

This ex-pat life. This moving life.

So much letting go. 

I tell myself this time it will be different. This island is still ours, we will still come home to it. I can see my dog, no longer my dog, whenever I come home to my island. I have been welcomed there, at his new home. 

But this time, this beautiful crazy time alone on this island with my children is winding down, and will never look the same. 

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This island is full of artists who open their studios for tours.

I love to take the children to a pottery spot at the edge of an apple orchard where you can watch a woman’s hands shape clay. 

I love to take them to the weavers and watch their eyes get wide as the threads move in and out. 

Last week we took our first tour of a lavender distillery and learned the process that gives us the drops we scatter upon our pillows each night. 

Recently we happened upon a new gallery opening up, walls filled with explosive color on canvas. The kindest man walked us through each painting and when hearing my daughter is an artist he insisted we meet the artist of the work. He explained she was recovering from a stroke and tending to plants in her greenhouse below. Following him down a rocky path, past an ivy-hugged home, we came upon the glass house and met the lovely woman behind the work we were just admiring. 

What happened next was so beautiful, touched me so deeply.  This man’s tenderness to his partner was so sensory I felt I could reach out and touch it.

He explained to her, in the softest voice, that we had come to see her work.

He gently took her hand and walked her up and out of the green house, introducing us while smiling at her the entire time.

Life long loves and he was lit up completely looking at her as if they’d just met, and just that moment fallen in love.

He said he thought it would be lovely if she could come to the studio and do some art with my daughter, and would that be okay with me, as it would make this artist so happy to make art with my daughter.

Of course, I said, we’d love to.

And then he took his love’s hand and as he walked her through their garden he stopped to show her a new flower that had bloomed.

I watched them watching a single red rose blossomed in a sea of white roses, completely lost in their tenderness for each other and I thought, this, this right here is the most beautiful thing I have seen on this island. This is what I want to take away. To walk in that kind of tenderness. 

With my family. 

With my friends. 

With myself. 

I am holding onto the tenderness as I think of my dog, being gentle with my deep sadness. 

This letting go of this amazing two years.

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Parts Unknown is my very favorite show. It’s been a companion to me this last 2 years as much as my sweet dog has been, filling my nights with companionship. Night after night after night I have gone around the world with Bourdain. Night after night after night he brought me so much joy with his adventures.

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Let’s look to our neighbors.

Let’s all be tender.

Help someone.

Give them a smile.

Be patient in a store.

Be kind.

We are all trying.

We are all just trying to get through sometimes. 

Next stop Kenya

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In only a few weeks we will turn the page and move to Nairobi. 

I wondered how I’d feel when the time came to pack up and leave my island.

I am surprised at the ease I feel. 

I am surprised at how ready I am. 

I am leaving a very different woman, than the woman who came to this island. 

I feel the island launching us into the next chapter of our lives. 

I hear it whispering  it’s time to go. 

One friend has already left. Another is planning on leaving in the fall. 

Even my willow branches have begun to fade and fallen leaves lay scattered on the hardwood floor. I cannot tell you how much I look at those curled up leaves, leaves that grew against all odds, and feel like this is all so meant to be. 

I met a lovely woman who ran a shop on the island. She and her husband move around the world every 5 years just because they want to. I asked her, as she was selling the shop and they were getting ready to leave for their next adventure in Australia, how she felt leaving here when she loved it so very much. She said,

“Just because we love it here doesn’t mean we won’t love it even more somewhere else.”

I am riding those words all the way to Kenya. 

An exam point-of-view

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I have now sat exams on three continents, in 4 countries, and am just mesmerized at how beautifully illustrative the process has been on culture. 

I do want to stress that everyone I have dealt with in all of these situations was EXTREMELY kind. There is no end to wonderful people all over the world. 

That said, the processes could not have been more different….

In Rome, the exam center sits in a gorgeous old ruin of a building, filled with statues, a cobblestone courtyard, and a teeny tiny elevator you are not quite sure will actually make its journey up. (I took the stairs.)

Right across the street is a lovely café for a quick espresso and cornetto con miele to enjoy before you head in. 

It’s all so lovely and relaxed. I put a big bar of chocolate in front of me and nibbled my way through the questions, my bags scattered at my feet, my coat across my lap to keep me warm. I have no doubt had I asked for a pizza halfway through, or explained that I really did need another espresso, I would have found no resistance as these are mandatory for good exam taking there. 

In Uganda, the exam center sits in a warehouse type building in a field that seems to be abandoned at first glance, and second.

Exams are supposed to start at 9 and by 9:30 my fellow students and I were still waiting. The clock kept ticking, we kept waiting, and when finally someone arrived we were all so excited only to learn that we were to be led to another seemingly abandoned building, and then told to wait some more.

Around 10:30, almost exploding with stress, I took it upon myself to ask what the problem was and was told that because the rooms are not used much they were trying to find a rag to dust the tables with, to make it nice for us. I explained that I didn’t really think any of us cared about dust, that we were already well over an hour late to begin and were all getting tired which was probably not the best thing as we came ready to hit the exam hard. At this point my fellow examinees chimed in that I spoke for all of them and we were finally escorted into the dust and cobwebbed room, depositing our things all around, and finally finally finally given our booklets to begin.

This is what is called “Ugandan time.”

In Brooklyn, New York City, I went to a very large campus and after being dropped off on the wrong side of it, felt myself suddenly in a scene from a movie as I raced across field after field to find where I needed to be. Fully no nonsense, as NY people are, I was told there is your locker, put your things into it, here is your desk, pay your fee, sit down. All very straightforward and I did as I was told. Exam started. I finished early. I left. Badda Boom. 

This week I sat my first exam in Canada. I can honestly say I have now had a true Kafkaesque experience.

Upon entering I was told I would have to go through the “procedures” thoroughly. I was first given a fire alarm drill–I kid you not–and then told to sit while I was read the ENTIRE booklet on exam regulations. These are the same regulations I am sent as a student and have read many times and nowhere does it say they are to be read to me. 

I am then searched, making sure I have nothing with me to take into the room, even having to take off my scarf to show I did not have words hidden inside of it. I was able to get my tissues authorized—which they put my name on— after explaining I was sick and needed them. 

Once in the room I was told if I needed anything to just raise my hand as I was on camera. I looked up at the fish eye in the ceiling and this is when I thought this is just all too surreal. 

Finally seated and trying to shake off all I just had to go through, I put my head down and dove into my exam, finishing in 2 hours and 50 min. Once finished, I got up, as I have done for the last 7 years, in Rome, in Uganda, in NY, to turn my exam in and was met with complete panic that I had left the room! We then had to get the rules and regulations book and look at whether I had committed a terrible offense. The booklet said, one must not leave the exam room until the exam is completed. 

“But I completed it,” I said. “And I am the only one here.”

I was the only one there. 

“But there is still 5 minutes of test time,” my proctor says. 

“I have never had this happen, I just leave when I am done, I am a bit confused as to all these protocols and please, what do you want me to do?” At this point I am panicking that they are going to rip my exam up and I just wanted a way out of the maze. 

“I want you to go back into the room.”

Into the room I went, 5 feet from her, separated by a thin glass window, just staring at her, while the fish eye stared at me, until I was allowed to leave exactly 4 minutes later. 

I went out into the parking lot only to find a parking ticket on my car. I had apparently parked 2 spots into the staff parking area and while there were NO OTHER CARS around this was not to be overlooked.

If I do a Masters, I am going to Rome. 

Road trip

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After 23 hours of flying my husband arrived from South Sudan and then just hours later we all packed into the car to drive up the Pacific Rim Highway, to where the sea crashes into the shore on wild waves. 

Our island is gentle, soft. Our shore is silent and meditative, calming.

The open north Pacific, out there on the edge of nothing, where land falls away into forever, the shore is brooding and powerful, and makes one feel so very small. 

What is it about that wild coast, where land falls away into sea that moves into forever? You can feel the curve of the earth while leaning into that horizon. 

We ferried and drove from our little island all the way to that wild sea, the Pacific in all it’s fullness. Farms in green valleys gave way to mountain roads still edged with snow that gave way to a long flat edge. There at the endless sea waves crashed against rocks, with a wind so strong you couldn’t hear your own thoughts. The beaches had no end. 

I thought of this amazing explorer I was just reading about, Henry Worsley. His need to push his boundaries, man’s boundaries, ultimately cost him his life. Standing there at the curve of the earth I thought of him and how some are pushed to go deeper than the rest of us. I thought of all the ones who set sail on that wild sea to discover and conquer, without even knowing if they would find land again or forever be adrift. The ones who kept their eyes skyward. 

How often do we not look up? As a child I never lost sight of this magnificent crazy earth. On hot summer nights I would lie in grass counting stars, making wishes on falling ones and everything seemed so tiny compared to it. The wonder of it all was my ship, my point of departure into becoming who I would be. 

Life gets busy. Kids don’t sleep. Dreams change. We have good days and bad. Good years and harder ones. But the stars are still hanging above us and some of them are falling, catching children’s dreams as they go. 

We are on a planet, spinning in space. 

Sometimes being on this inland has felt a bit like sitting on a butterfly’s wing. It’s so beautiful and gentle. Translucent and magical. We are protected from the open ocean, cocooned and nestled between islands. 

It was so nice to go past these boundaries, to reach up and over and to stand at that curvature of the earth and look up out of that butterfly’s wing to the chaos of this crazy and truly wild universe.

Wow.