Somber Topics

We made it to St. Louis. It was a long day and my kids tried my patience but we got here and that is good. 

I have visited St. Louis every summer for the entirety of my life. When we lived in Hong Kong we’d spend over a month here each summer, so in many ways it feels like a second home. We have always stayed with my grandmother when we are in town and her house is absolutely a home away from home. Everything about it is familiar.

But it’s a small house and my grandmother is 91. It’s a lot for my family to stay there with my parents. My kids are getting bigger and they want to run around and play. There isn’t really adequate space at my grandmother’s house. So this year I am staying with my kids at my uncle’s house, in the house where my aunt died last year.

It’s sad to be here with her gone. Her face smiles back at my from a hundred pictures but she is absent from this place. I miss her. 

I will admit I don’t think about my aunt being gone often. We didn’t keep in touch much when I wasn’t in town; it’s not like I mourn her passing every day. But when it’s the time of year when I would have seen her, I find myself crying all the time. It’s surprising how much it hurts. 

Being in my aunt’s house, with my uncle who is still learning to cope with his grief, is hard. It know it is what’s best for my family, as here we have more space and are closer to my cousin and her kids. But it’s a constant reminder that my aunt is gone, and also a preview of what is to come, when my grandmother, and her house, are no longer there for us to visit. 

My uncle and my mother and my mother’s sisters are driving to Birmingham tomorrow to say goodbye to their brother’s wife, who is dying of cancer. She has two daughters in high school. Another aunt gone too soon. 

Thinking a lot tonight about death and dying, about the cycle of life, from beginning to end. It’s a lot to process.  

Companion

We leave for St. Louis tomorrow morning, early. I packed our large suitcase and gave it to my parents today when I dropped them off at the airport. I’m very thankful they are dealing with that for me.

Tuesday and Wednesday were whirlwinds spent entertaining my uncle and cousin. The Exploratorium was fun, but we skipped my son’s nap and he didn’t handle it well, which meant the afternoon was a challenge. He went to school on Wednesday so we weren’t subjected to an encore performance on Alcatraz. Because I waited too long to buy tickets (getting them only six weeks before we wanted to go instead of 8 or 10 weeks before – WTF?!) we had to visit Angel Island before we went to Alcatraz. Evidently it’s fairly common for people to buy that package out of desperation (it costs a lot more) because the tour guide on Angel Island asked how many of us were there because the direct trips to Alcatraz were all sold out and about half of us raised our hands. Anyway, the boat left at 9:45 and we didn’t get to Alcatraz until 1:30 so it was a long day. We all had a lot of fun though – the audio tour on Alcatraz always impresses and entertains.

Yesterday and today I spent running errands, and my daughter had to tag along because she wasn’t in camp this week. She actually did really well, rarely complaining and handling the many hours of monotony without ever melting down (she did lose it once we’d gotten home yesterday, but was fine for the six hours we were out and about). Yesterday we dropped off her brother at school, got my allergy shot at Kaiser (where we had to wait 30 minutes to make sure I didn’t have a reaction), drove across the bay to pick up some Spanish books I ordered from a distributor in Europe, stopped by Walgreens to get some stuff for our trip, had lunch at my favorite burrito place in Berkeley (where I had to move my car multiple times to avoid getting a ticket), stopped by a glasses place to pick up my old frames with new lenses, and then finally went home.

Today was similarly hectic, with lots of time in the car. She had to hang out with me while I got my legs waxed and we even braved a toy store while we waited for my appointment. She did awesome everywhere we went. We’ve been home for almost two hours and she’s kept herself busy reading and looking at books. She hasn’t even asked for screen time or a treat! It’s still so hard to get anything done with my son, I hadn’t realized how capable my daughter can be when it’s just her and me. The idea that it might be manageable to run a day’s worth of errands, or just spent a few quiet hours at home, with both of them in just three years is kind of mind-boggling, but I suppose that is where we are headed. There is a light at the end of the tunnel after all!

Of course when they are together it’s constant fighting and whining and crying. The mornings are driving me insane. I hope that they are better in St. Louis, or it’s going to be a long 10 days.

I’m also worried about the weather there. It’s supposed to be in the high 90’s (sometimes hitting the low 100’s) all week. My kids start to lose their shit when it hits the mid-80’s, and that is in a dry heat. The humidity index in St. Louis is always killer, and I really worry they will melt down when they step outside. The last three summers we got unseasonable cool weather, so they aren’t used to handling the heat even when we visit their cousins. We’ll see what happens. I’m planning on lots of swimming, and I’m okay skipping any outdoor activities we usually do, like the zoo or Grant’s Farm.

I can’t believe we leave tomorrow morning! It’s been an insane few days, but I’m ready to begin another adventure.

And I promise I’ll write more about Quito and Ecuador. I have a post in the works, but it’s slow going.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Oh man, Monday was a long day. I was picked up at 5:30am to go to the airport and stepped into my own house at 11pm San Francisco time (1am Quito time). That is a lot of traveling.

My kids and I leave for St. Louis on Saturday morning. Our plane leaves at 9:30am.

Yesterday I took my uncle and cousin (actually my cousin’s kid) to the Exploratorium with my own kids. Today my daughter and I will do Alcatraz with them. Then I have Thursday to pack because Friday I take my parents to the airport and they are taking our big suitcase with them, because it’s free to check on Southwest and $50 on the airline we’re taking.

I remember when I was making these plans, thinking how crazy it was going to be. And now that I’m living it… it absolutely feels like too much.

Seeing my kids Monday morning was amazing. The first hugs were oh so sweet. We snuggled and read and hung out. There was about an hour honeymoon period of awesome before they fell back into their old patterns of whining and fighting. My son threw a minor tantrum for about an hour because he didn’t like the present I’d gotten him (a stuffed llama adorned with real fur instead of a Thomas toy). I kind of knew it was coming but it still sucked. I’m not trying to paint our first morning together with a negative brush, just trying to portray things realistically. It’s so easy to imagine how amazing a mother’s homecoming is after 10 days of being away, but the reality is always a lot messier. I think it’s important to portray the messy.

My daughter did AMAZING while I was away. Everyone has mentioned it. She seems more grown up now, even to me. She really is growing up, in ways I wasn’t sure would ever happen with all the stuff we’ve been through. I think it can be hard for me to remember that my son is only three, since my daughter acted a lot younger than her age (in terms of her social/emotional development) for so long, and now seems a lot more mature. It’s almost like I expect my son to make that same jump now too.

It’s also hard to appropriately gauge my expectations surrounding her ability to handle herself better than her brother since she is older. Surely I shouldn’t have the same expectations for a seven year old and a three and a half year old, and yet I want to be fair. In the end she is only seven, and a sensitive, easily overwhelmed seven at that. I felt immediately thrown back into that whole complicated parenting dynamic, second guessing how to handle their fighting and frustrations.

I didn’t even realize I was expecting at least 24 of adoration before they fell back into their regular whiny routines, until their bickering started up almost immediately, and I felt… cheated? Ah unrecognized expectation, you are a fickle bitch.

So now I buckle down to get it all done before St. Louis, and then I spend St. Louis managing my children instead of having fun with my cousins (trying to set that realistic expectation right now). Good times.

I don’t think I realized how great it was to have all that personal time in Ecuador, because I spent so much of it managing the emotions of being away from home. But now, looking back, I recognize how amazing those slow mornings were, how enjoyable dinner was with only adults to converse with, the freedom to plan when I only needed to consider my own physical and emotional limitations. No wonder I had such a good time, despite everything that challenged me.

I do plan to write more about my trip, about what I loved and didn’t love about Quito, about why I can’t wait to go back to Ecuador with my kids, and about how I felt traveling alone for 10 days. I hope I get those posts written, because I have a lot to say.

Right now I’ll just say, it’s great to be home, even if it’s not quite how I imagined. I am a lucky woman to be able to get away, and a lucky woman to have a family to come home to.

What expectations do you need to check right now?

Last day

I can’t believe my flight leaves in less than 12 hours. I’ve had an amazing time, but I’m ready to go home. 

Today I lounged in the thermal pools and got a massage (which was AMAZING!). The place was very nice. 



I also took a walk they suggest that was totally amazing. It was only 2km long but every step was incredible.






Getting back to Quito was almost as hard as getting to Papallacta had been the day before. I think it’s definitely worth a visit, but it would be WAY better to arrange private transportation. The buses are a mess. 

I was able to avoid taking the bus all the way to the southern terminal because I just had them drop me at an over pass, where I took another bus into the centro histórico. I was pretty proud of myself for that. I found my hostal with no problems. 

Someone is coming to get me at 5:30am so I should try to sleep. After 15 hours of travel tomorrow (with a 5.5 hour layover in Mexico City!) I should be home. Thanks for putting up with all my pictures!

La Mitad del Mundo

Ecuador gets it’s name from being right under the equator, and there is a monument north of Quito where you can stand in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres at the same time.


It is pretty f*cking cool. 


Gravity works differently when you are standing directly on the center of the Earth. I got an egg to balance on the head of a nail. 


It was definitely a cool experience to visit the equator. I’m glad I went. 


I spent many hours yesterday trying to get from “the middle of the world” back to Quito and then to some thermal springs near one of the volcanoes. It was quite an experience, one I feel like everyone has to have in a foreign country. Ah buses in Central and South America: they are in so many ways a window into the country where they run. 

After what should have been a 2 hour trip stretched to 5 hours, I finally arrived. I have never appreciated warm water so much in my life. 


I have until 1pm at the springs’ hotel today then it’s back to Quito for an afternoon and final night at a hostal in the city. Someone is picking me up at 5:30am Monday to take me to the airport. 

See you all on the other side!

¡Esa vaina!

It’s Thursday night. It’s been a great trip. Since I have classes until 4pm, I need to spent my three hours of daylight each afternoon wisely. I got some Spanish books and picked up obligatory presents for family at the Mercado Artesenal. I have homework to finish after dinner and by the time that’s done I’m wiped. 

Today I feel like I really hit a wall of mental exhaustion. I knew it was going to come, but the suddenness and intensity really caught me off guard. 

I started to slip into that hole of “holy shit I still have so far to go, I’m never going to get there.” It was hard to crawl out. 

But I am improving. My classes are really intense and so worthwhile. My teachers are amazing. My family is incredible. I’m really glad I came. 

I can’t believe tomorrow is my last day of classes. Saturday morning I’m headed to “La Mitad del Mundo,” a spot directly  under the equator, where you can stand with one foot in each hemisphere at the same time. Then it’s off to some hot springs where I sprung (ha!) for a night in a touristy hotel so I could relax in the warm, natural waters or some really beautiful pools. I’ll be doing all the by myself, and of course there are no direct routes. 

Sunday afternoon I head back to Quito and early Monday morning I’m on a plane back to the States. 

I wish I could write more but my brain is mush. Instead, here are more pictures. 

EL CENTRO HISTÓRICO






EL PARQUE CAROLINA


EL TELEFORICO


MY DAILY WALK




Finding my travel legs

Sometimes it seems I have two conflicting personalities. There is a part of me that truly loves traveling. I revel in discovering a new place, and so many of my most salient memories are of my trips to Europe and Central America. But I’m also a homebody. I take great comfort in the familiarity of home and routine. And I always miss my family so much when I’m away.I will admit, leaving my kids on Saturday morning was hard. Really hard. I had to leave in a hurry because I didn’t want them to see me cry. I barely got to hug my husband. I was also running late, which didn’t help. They handled the actual good-bye really well, which was probably because I took BART so the wouldn’t have to watch me walk away at the airport. They were happily distracted by the TV when I finally shut the front door.

I wish I could say I skipped away from all my responsibilities, excited for a new opportunity, but instead I spent the walk wiping away tears, wishing I could wipe away the enduring sense of dread.


My actual trip to Ecuador was nothing but luck. A BART train was pulling into the station as I came down the escalator (they only come every 20-25 minutes on the weekends) and there was no line to check in at the airport. For some reason I got bumped up to the “sky priority” seats, which means I was basically in first class. I’ve NEVER flown first class, and to say I was excited would be a grave understatement. They served drinks in actual glasses and gave us dinner and the movies were free. I even enjoyed a tequila, just because I could.

I had a five hour layover in Mexico City. That sucked, but I killed an hour in a book store (oh my how I LOVE Spanish language book stores, I’m like a kid at Christmas in them) and treated myself to dinner (and two mezcals), before I watched a movie on my iPad. (I had downloaded movies on the Netflix and Amazon apps, along with Hoopla so I could watch without wifi – technology is f*cking awesome). 

My flight to Ecuador left at 1am (11pm my time – Central and South America don’t observe DST so they are only two hours ahead of the west coast right now) and I tried to get a little sleep. I managed better in that giant seat than I would have otherwise and I think I got a good two hours in. Still, I was pretty exhausted when I landed in Quito.

My host family came to get me, but they were bringing their son to the airport too, so I had another hour and a half of waiting until they came. 

They are a very nice couple, and have hosted MANY students over the years so it all comes really naturally to them. Their house is very cute. They have five dogs who don’t come in the house, but are very friendly when I go into the yard. My room is very cute, and the bathroom is right next door. So far they’ve served two meals I would never eat at home, but I enjoyed them both well enough.

I slept for about three hours after breakfast, until noon Quito time, then I just hung out in my room for a bit reading. After almost 24 hours on planes or in airports, I soaked in the silence of the little house on the hill. 

After lunch they took me to a nearby park and they took the dogs in one direction while I set off in another. I ended up hiking for three hours! It is a beautiful park with some incredible views; I look forward to running there a couple times this week.

My husband asked that we not FaceTime tonight because my son has had a really hard time with me being gone. I miss them and wish I could talk to them, but I understand and respect my husband’s concern. Maybe tomorrow.

Now it is almost 9pm Quito time, but only 7pm my time. I need to fall asleep soon because I have an early morning tomorrow. Luckily, between the lack of sleep last night and the long hike, I don’t think it will be that hard to fall asleep. 

I’ll leave you with some pictures from my hike. 




One sleep

One sleep until I leave for Ecuador. I wish I could say I were ready.

I do have my passport. And a money belt. I have an idea of what I will pack, and some of it is even piled on top of my rolly bag. I have a ride from the airport in Quito. I have gifts for my host family, and have exchanged a few emails and photos with them. They seem super nice, truly; I’m a lot less worried now. (Probably also because I have a bunch of protein bars in case I don’t like what they serve – and yes I will eat some of everything they offer me.) I have a notebook and pens for school. And my running clothes.

I informed my bank and credit card company of my travel plans. I can get cash at the airport (and have some in case for some reason that doesn’t happen). My devices are charged. I guess, once my clothes are actually in my suitcase, I’ll be ready to go.

I am definitely excited. And nervous. If nothing else it will be a new experience, and after all the job-search-and-interview newness this spring, I realize I need more new experiences or I can’t grow.

In many ways, I feel like I’ll be stepping into my past, but with an altered perspective. Traveling, especially to Spanish-speaking countries, is what I did in my 20’s, before I had kids. Now I’m married and a mother; What will traveling and learning a language be like with those lenses fastened securely? Will I revisit my 20 something self? I hope not, she was a total mess.

I feel like I should have more to say but I don’t. So I’ll leave you with this. And post an update as soon as I can when I get there.

One Year with the Bike

I’ve been meaning to write this post since early May, when it had actually been a year, but I never seemed to fall on this topic. Finally, it is time.

It’s been a year (okay, almost 14 months) since I bought the electric-assist cargo bike, and I still love it just as much as I did when I got it, maybe even more. It is seriously an amazing way to get around the city, and makes me love this confounded 7×7 cement maze a lot more than I do from behind the wheel of a car.


Of course there are some issues when it comes to riding a bike around a congested city. I’ll mention those first, but only because I want to end on the positives.

Weather. I am VERY lucky that the bike is not my only mode of transportation, and I can take the car when it rains. Having the option to take the car was especially important this past winter, because it rained A SHIT LOAD. After eight years of drought, California seemed to be making up for a lot of dry winters. It would have REALLY sucked to ride out in the rain, and I think my kids would have made me pay for it.

Rain is not the only weather that sucks on a bike. San Francisco may never get hot, but it sure as f*ck gets windy. Riding in high winds is not fun, but we’ve gotten used to it. The good thing about a bike as heavy as that one is you don’t feel like you’ll be blown over (which can be a very real and terrifying feeling on a lighter road bike). Still, powerful wind gusts hurt the face and eyes, make you ride slower and just all around suck. I have been more acutely aware of the wind this year than any previous.

We also get a lot of fog. This morning it felt like little pinpricks of water hitting my face. But honestly, it doesn’t bother me. Kind of feels refreshing!

Close quarters. Now my kids can quarrel in the car with the best of them, even with that lovely middle seat between them, so it’s not like car rides with them are always peaceful, but I definitely notice an uptick in bickering when they are on the back of the bike. There isn’t a ton of space on the bench and with the wind blowing jackets and hoods all around, they get frustrated with each other. They also handle those frustrations poorly. It drives me nuts when they fight on the back of the bike. Luckily, with how much we’re riding it this summer, it seems to be getting better. I guess they are just getting used to sharing the smaller space, or maybe they are tired of constantly fighting all the time.

Safety concerns. Last week a cyclist was killed at an intersection near my house that I ride through almost every day. That was… sobering to say the least. I am SUPER cautious on the bike, especially when the kids are with me, but I know I can’t control for every possibility (like idiots on the smart phones while driving). We all wear neon yellow windbreakers, and I ALWAYS assume cars don’t see me. Still, it’s definitely a risk I’m cognizant of, even if I don’t actually feel anxiety while I ride. I have been looking for a good safety flag to put on the back (all the ones I’ve found online get horrible reviews and evidently break almost immediately) and I plan to get an air horn on the handle bars so I can alert drivers when necessary.

Fear of theft. There have been a few times I didn’t take the bike for fear of leaving it in a certain area for a long period of time. I have a VERY BIG chain to lock it up, and a back wheel lock for extra protection, but there are areas where I feel uncomfortable leaving it for prolonged periods. That said, 99% of the time, I’m okay to take it somewhere and leave it locked up. I would definitely NOT be comfortable leaving it locked up in the same place daily (giving inspired bike thieves the time and opportunity to orchestrate an ingenious plan).

Storage. I have a big basket on the front, and it holds a lot, but it can definitely be hard to fit everything on the bike. Once we take off my son’s Yepp seat, I can hang bags from the bench, which will really help. At this point I’ve gotten pretty creative, and managed to get three kids, and their stuff, on the bike for shorter rides.

{My daughter’s backpack hanging off my son’s seat – with her robe scrunched below (it was pajama day at camp)}

*  *  *  *  *

Okay, and now on to the positives! And, in my opinion, there are so many!

It’s fun! Seriously, I LOVE riding my bike. I used to road bike with my parents when I lived on the peninsula, so I’ve spent hours, and ridden literally hundreds of miles, on a bike. (I actually participated in many centuries (100 mile rides) and even a couple 100 plus-over-multiple-day rides.) So yes, I already liked riding a bike, and I suppose I already felt pretty comfortable riding near cars (though riding on the peninsula is the minor leagues compared to riding in SF – there is a MASSIVE difference). I also REVEL in riding past a block (or two or three!) of cars waiting in traffic. Nothing, truly nothing, makes me happier.

Exercise! Outside! So, the battery really helps me ride, which means I don’t get much  exercise on the bike (but this is actually another positive: see below!). My guess is it’s a lot like walking, as far as energy expended. Of course, riding (or walking!) is better than being in the car, so I’ll take it (it definitely doesn’t substitute for any of my workouts though). I also think I get a little of that exercise “high” being on the bike. It’s not as good as when I run, but I definitely feel energized after a longer ride. I also LOVE being outside, it’s just good for my soul, and in SF the weather is generally decent, if not beautiful (even when the wind is slapping me in the face. 😉

You don’t have to work hard. I know a lot of people who have considered getting an electric bike (just a regular one-person bike, not a cargo) but didn’t because biking is their only form of exercise. While I appreciate that perspective (especially if you don’t have a car so you have to ride your bike), I think there are very real benefits to having an electric-assist bike, especially in a city as hilly as this one.

For one, I don’t get sweaty when I ride the bike. I sweat when I exercise a lot, and I HATE showing up somewhere with circles under my arms and a headband of sweaty hair. I really and truly HATE it. I live in a city that rarely gets hot enough to make me sweat, and I don’t want to do it because I rode a bike to get somewhere. For me, being able to arrive dry, even lugging two kids up some impressive hills, is a HUGE positive.

It’s also nice to not be physically exhausted every time I ride it. The point of the bike is to get places, not expend energy. I appreciate that I can get where I’m going without wearing myself out. The bike really does feel like a way to get around, not a way to work out. I absolutely appreciate that. It allows me to take it anywhere, wearing anything (well mostly anything).

Easy to park! There are some neighborhoods that I will likely never drive to again, now that I have the bike. The Academy of Sciences is amazing, with an incredible aquarium that my kids love, and I have a membership so we can go whenever we want, but it’s in the middle of Golden Gate Park and the parking is atrocious. I’ve actually left there once without going in – I couldn’t find a spot within a mile! Now I can ride over there in about the same time it took to drive, and park my bike 100 feet from the entrance. It’s the best.

My daughter has been at a camp in my old neighborhood where parking is notoriously difficult. I’ve ridden there every day and it’s so easy to just kick up the bike stand and sign her in or out. Parking, or double parking, would be so stressful.

Fast! The electric assist is not just awesome for getting up big hills with 90+ lbs of kid, it’s also awesome for getting where you need to go fast. Generally it only takes me a little longer to take the bike than the car. Sometimes travel time is about equal. In a city with as much traffic as this one, the bike is a really quick and easy way of getting around.

Good for the Earth. Obviously riding a bike is better for the Earth than driving a car. It also takes one more car off the rode in a city with way too many cars. I also like being part of the bike culture here in the city. I mostly stick to streets with designated bike lanes, or at least bike signs painted in the lane, and there are always a lot of other bike riders on those streets – and a lot of them have cargo bikes with kids! I like being a part of that group of people who are doing things a little differently, for themselves and for the world.

I’m sure there are more positives and negatives I could think of, but with these points I think I paint a comprehensive picture of my experience with an electric-assist cargo bike. It’s definitely a massive investment, but I am enjoying it so much. I think if they can eventually bring the price down on electric-assist bikes, it could start a serious revolution.

{Three kids on the back of the bike!}