Posts Tagged ‘California’

3rd January
written by Michelle

 On Monday night we boarded a redeye flight from California to Guatemala. We’ve done this numerous times before, the difference being this time the little baby we thought would sleep was wide awake. We sat on the runway for a while before being giving the clear to take off. As she stared out the window pointing at the lights, we tried our best to keep her occupied. Like any parent who has flown with a toddler knows, you’ll do anything to keep them quiet and contained. I started whispering “bye bye” to each item we spotted out the window. We waved bye bye to the moon and to the lights and to the man with the orange flashlight. We continued…

Good-bye to Nana, Good-bye to Papa, Good-bye to Bean and wooff wooff,

In her sweetest voice she repeated, “byyeee, byeee.”

Good-bye Bobo and Grandma Charlotte. Good-bye Tia Steph and Uncle Brian.

As the plane started to speed up we waved good-bye to Target and Trader Joe’s, REI and easy returns. We waved goodbye to Starbucks and the sleeping deer. Good-bye library and the parks with no sand.

Good-bye 5-lane freeways and the carpool lane. Goodbye sushi and roasted seaweed.

Good-bye beach walks and friends in Santa Barbara. Good-bye Boat House and Blenders.

Good-bye Jen, Good-bye June. Good-bye church and cousins in LA. And good-bye putting toilet paper in the toilet.

As the headed west out over the Pacific and the lights behind us faded we waved one more time. I whispered in her ear…

Good-bye California.

. . .

I looked out the window into the black sky. I swallowed the ache in my heart. So much has changed since I first left.

I moved to Guatemala trusting that still small voice that says, Go, Will you trust me? My plan was for a year. I think if someone had told me you’re leaving and not coming back, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But a year seamed do-able, even desirable. And in these 4 years some pretty significant life changes happened: I fell in love and got married. We bought a home and then welcomed the birth of our daughter. My life has expanded and changed and simplified in a million ways. I became a foreigner, a wife and a mother within a span of three years. Sometimes when I let that all sink in, I think, woah! That’s a lot.

And then we go back for visits like this past one. And I

My parents spoil us. They do everything possible to make visiting with a toddler easy. They let us borrow a car and give us the guest bedroom, they buy diapers and wipes and set-up a changing station in our room. They have a closet full of toys for Elena to play with and a fridge full of food for us. They welcome us and love us well.

One of my very favorite things was watching Elena reach her arms out for Nana or Papa. My sister spoiled her with crafts and cups of Starbucks’ hot chocolate and she spoiled us with free babysitting for date nights and afternoon errands. Gerber and I went to the movies together for the FIRST time since Elena was born. We saw, the Hobbit (his choice) and Interstellar (my choice).

I have a new appreciation for the benefits of living close to my family. I get a glimpse of what it could look like.

Then we went to Santa Barbara for a week. Some of my favorite people and favorite places are there. We bounced around and stayed with three different friends’ who gracioulsy hosted us. We piled Elena in the car for dinners with friends and breakfast dates. We walked along the beach and spent a morning out on the pier at the Sea Center Museum. I planned play dates and we had an open house. I visited the high school where I taught and ran into a few old students around town. The week was full. On our way out of town we even stopped for coffee with two of my favorite professors.

We drove down the 101 with the ocean sparkling in the rear-view mirror. As, we rounded the last curve the orange-pink sunset slipped behind the hill and I sighed. Not a sad sigh, just a nostalgic, heart full and heavy sigh.

Maybe I was mourning what I left behind. Or maybe just reminiscing. Although we all know the past often looks better when seen through rear-view mirror sunsets. I know in a heartbeat I would leave it all again, but for some reason being back this time touched something different.

. . .

Elena finally settled down on my lap, buried her head in my chest and was asleep before they turned off the cabin lights. I leaned my head back against my seat and closed my eyes. Gerber grabbed my hand. He knew. He always knows. Even when we don’t exchange words, he senses the heaviness in my heart. He saw the tears as we waved good-bye to my family at the airport.

I glanced down at my husband’s hand tightly wrapped around mine and the little girl asleep in my arms. I may have left some really good things behind, but I am deeply thankful for what I gained.

A few short hours later, the captain makes an announcement in Spanish that I am not awake enough to understand. I lift open the window shade and let the light in. Elena pops open her eyes and pulls herself up to peer out the window.

Down below is Guatemala, in all of her majesty. Volcanoes, lakes, tiny cement pueblos built on the edges of cliffs.

We start the slow descent by waving hello to everything she knows in Guatemala.

She waves hello to horsies and doggies in the street. Hello, to agua and the fountain in Antigua.

Hello, Mama Hilla and Papa Choyo. Hello, Tia Mimi & Tia Ara. Hello, Sofi and Emmita.

Hello, Guayo and Dalilia. Hello, Alessandra and Tio Walter.

Hello, nuestra casa and the community playground. Hello, bumpy streets and breakfast bagel dates.

Hello, black beans and handmade tortillas.

Hello, Guatemala.

We are home. My heart is full and yet there is always an ache in the leaving, huh?

11th August
written by Michelle

If your new here, these are series of letters I started writing to my daughter before she was born. This was the first one, and this is one her Daddy wrote her. I wrote about her birth story here  and I seem to write a lot about raising a bilingual and bicultural daughter and hardest part of motherhoods . These are my way to capture and remember parts of her life and I invite you to read along. This may be last “Dear Mija” letter for awhile, but I am sure I’ll come back to it.


Dear Mija-

In June we celebrated your first birthday. (And our first year has parents! Let’s be honest, both are equally important.)

Elena, you say “Dada” first thing every morning, you are starting to give real besitos and you would eat black beans by the spoonful if we let you. I am convinced the Guatemalan side of you will always prefer to sleep right between me and Daddy and it’s a good thing we live in a country where no one bats an eye if you breastfeed your walkin’, talkin’, toddler because that very well may be us. Your favorite things are doggies, agua and signing “more.” Maybe in that order.

Anytime you see a doggie you make the cutest little “ruff ruff” sound. Oddly in Guatemala, the toilet paper brand Scott has a cute golden retriever as its logo. So you often walk down the supermarket aisle pointing and barking.

Before you said “mama” or “dada” you said “agua.” And it’s still your favorite thing. Washing your hands, taking a shower, playing in the pool…as long as there is water involved you’re a happy camper. We’ve started teaching you signs for “more” and “all-done” around 7 or 8 months and I was convinced that you could care less. And then one day around 11 months or so you ago you just got it! It’s like it clicked and you started signing “more” ALL. THE. TIME. More aguaMore beans. More nena. More books. More, more, more.

When I tell you it’s time to go “night night” you grab your monkey or your nena and start to pat their back and say “shhhh.” It’s pretty much the cutest thing ever. You now sleep in a small corner of your room on the floor, surrounded by pillows and blankets. We call it your nest, and ironically you sleep better now then you ever did in your crib.

You wave to people we see on the street and you love playing with and poking other kids. We’re working on more of the former and less of the latter. You have always liked noise and activity and being out and about. When we go to a birthday party or out with friends you’re as content as can be. But the moment I get you in the car you start to fuss and cry and basically melt down. When you meet someone new you usually give them a stare down at first. When someone talks to you, you listen with your eyes. Serious, focused and intent. When you trust someone you usually grab their hand and a cautious smile comes across your face.

Without intentionally planning it we got to celebrate your first birthday in both countries. First in California with your US family and then a few weeks later with your Guatemalan family. At Nana and Papa’s house your Auntie Christine and Stephanie decorated with an etsy banner that matched the circus theme.


Nana bought Animal Crackers and delicious cupcakes and everything was red, white and yellow. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough bread with onions and veggies and drank fancy drinks through pretty straws.

You sat on the floor in your red birthday dress and loved trying frosting for the first time. You opened gifts and tore paper and played with the envelopes while I read your birthday cards.


You are so loved by your family in the states. Your Uncle Andrew was there and Grandma Charlotte came by. I so badly want you to have memories in that home where I grew up. I look forward to the day when you say, “I want go to Nana and Papa’s house.”

In Guatemala a few weeks later, I picked up some balloons and a “Feliz Cumpleanos” banner at the Bodegona. I had you dressed in jeans and little blouse, but when we got to Mama Hiya’s house she surprised us with a huipil and corte that she made just for you. Your Aunt Mimi got you dressed and everyone said how beautiful you looked.


You didn’t look so sure about your new wardrobe, but you were a good sport. Your abuela made pepian for the whole family and we drank rosa de jaimca.


We had a huge Winnie the Pooh piñata, which I think your cousins were more excited about than you were. We sang to you and ate cake and drank Pepsi.

I made your “cake” with banana bread and cocoa date frosting and gave you water. Sorry, Mija…if I can hold off giving you soda for a little bit longer I will.


And you are so loved by your family in Guatemala.

I love watching you grab your cousins’ hands and walk around the home where your Daddy grew up. I look forward to you learning things about your Guatemalan heritage, things that I can’t teach you.

Elena, as you get older we’ll probably have our own birthday celebrations here at home. And I have a feeling we’ll take some traditions from both families. I imagine you may always want a piñata and ya know, the Bodegona has some half-decent decorations on the 2nd level. Your Daddy and I may get you a gift or two and let you choose a new birthday outfit. I will probably make some half-healthy snacks and I think pretty straws are sometimes fun. I imagine as you grow up we will keep finding ways to honor and celebrate you, and where you come from and who you are.

Elena, each year on your birthday I want you to remember three words:

strong, kind and grateful.

These are three words I hope to teach you and model for you. Three words that I pray over you and the one day you’ll look back and say, my mama taught me how to be strong, kind and grateful.

I want you to be strong in who you are. I want you to have an inner strength to know where you come from and how deeply loved you are. I pray that your strength comes not from what you do or what you achieve but from a deep trust in God. My hope is that your strength allows you take risks, and be the kind of girl who who stands up for what you know is right and is willing to sometimes do the hard thing.

I also want you to be kind. This is something that I have had to learn how to be. Sometimes I think being a first-born means we learn to be bossy and brave, but kindness gets buried underneath being in charge. Elena, my sweet girl I want you to be kind to people, kind to the boy or girl at school who other kids make fun and kind to the old lady you see in the park. Kindness is kind of like of a muscle, the more you use if the stronger it becomes.

Lastly, and maybe more most importantly, I want you to be grateful. I want you to be grateful when we sit on plastic stools and are served caldo de galina, even if it’s not your favorite. I want you to be grateful for the home we have and the privileges that will have. I think you can either choose to live life complaining about little things, or being grateful for the big things. I hope we can always choose the latter.

Elena, I know if I want you to be a strong, kind and grateful girl, then I need to model that. So on your birthday, this is also a reminder to myself, too. Because the truth is I want to be a strong, kind and grateful mother.

Whenever Daddy asks you, “Cuantos anos, Elena?” you hold up your little pointer finger ever so proudly. Uno!

Yes, my dear you’re one. And sometimes I want to bottle up your little finger, and chubby legs and sweet smile and say, stay my one-year-old baby forever. But then I remember what a gift it is to watch you grow and change and learn. And how being your mom is one of my favorite things ever. So here’s to a lifetime of celebrating your birthday…and making me a mom.

I love you, Elena.

 All my love,



P.S. Here’s a little quick 15-second look at the past 12 months, month-by-month!

16th April
written by Michelle


I was going through and organizing and deleting old photos on my computer the other night (anyone else ever do that?) and I realized it was exactly a year ago this week that we were moving.

I’ve written about it before. We moved twice last year. Granted it was just 2 blocks away while we did a remodel on our house. But, nonetheless it was a move. And moving while 8 months pregnant, and then moving back with a 3 month-old were probably equally tough in different ways and are both on my list of things-not-to-do-again.

But we did it. And for the past 6 months we have been making this place, this house, our home.

.  .  .

I read somewhere that our generation, the millennials, on average will move 10 times before the age of 30!? If I think back and count the number of houses, apartments and places I’ve lived just since graduating college it’s somewhere around 6 or 7. I think moving, whether it’s across town or across an ocean, challenges our sense of home.

Thanks to Edward Sharpe’s song I am so tempted to buy an etsy canvas with the words “home is wherever I am with you” scribbled in beautiful handwriting. The idea is both comforting and confusing. I mean I get the whole idea of feeling totally “at home” with a person. And I’ll admit when I was single I held onto this idea; that once I was married and doing life with my husband, I would feel at home whenever I was with him. It wouldn’t matter where we lived or where we went, I would be at home.

And there may be some truth to this, but for me a sense of home is deeper than just being with the people you love.

A sense of home is deeply rooted in a place. 

In a house and a community with streets and stories and people and purpose.

For me, a sense of home takes time. 

If you just moved give yourself grace. I think it takes awhile to feel at home somewhere new.

It grows slowly over months, maybe years.

It develops out of conversations and comfort and shared experiences.

It ebbs and flows, like the seasons.

Some days home feels like being in love, giddy with new things to explore and other days home feels frustrating and little things makes you furious, like noting being able to find parking at the Bodegona…again.

By home, I mean both a house and a city. 

Home is running into people you know around town and having a favorite coffee shop.

There’s a certain familiarity in being home. Like knowing which cupboard has the water glasses and where the extra toilet paper is kept.

When you’re home you see it all, the good, the bad and what needs fixing.

At home there is room to plan and dream and change. Because you’re staying long enough to do those things.

You see the mold growing in the corner above the kitchen and that crack in the counter.

You can sit on the lovely balcony with ivy growing around the railing and dream of the plants and and white lights that could be hung.

There is a certain “knowing” that comes when you live in a place for a long time. A knowing like how the weather will be in November or when high tide will come or when the jacaranda trees will bloom. No one tells you these things, you just know. Because you’re home.

There are certain rhythms that make home feel like home. Work to do, errands to run, dishes to wash, laundry to fold. There is dinner to be made, friends to visit, toys to put away and a couch to cuddle.

Sometimes in the fun and adventure of travel and suitcase living, these are the simple things I miss. Mundane and often the source of my complaining, they do make up a large part of home.

I love traveling, and I love traveling with Gerber and Elena. But when we travel we are visitors, explorers, just passing through.

But home, home is where you plant roots and stay.

Where you don’t need a map or GPS to navigate the streets.

There are a few places I still like to consider home, Santa Barbara being one. And where I grew up being another. But the truth is when I am there, although it feels familiar and comfortable, I am still a visitor. I come in and out for a set period of time.

When I am here I say, “Yeah, I’m going home in May to see my parents.” But when I am there, I say “Oh, I’m flying back home on Sunday.” It’s confusing, even to me. Maybe it’s what happens when you feel at home in more than one place.

When you move to a foreign country, I think your sense of “home” changes even more. It’s a weird feeling that the place you now call home, will always view you as an outsider.

But for now, my home is here. In Guatemala.

.  .  .

Last time my mom came came to visit she brought these hooks down for us. (well let’s be honest, for me. Because my husband would probably never pick out metallic letter-hooks from Anthropologie. But he likes the function and I like the fashion so they work :)

When you walk in our front door it’s one of the first things you see.

The letters:


And it’s a little reminder that this is my home. Our home. And I don’t plan on moving anytime soon.


What makes you feel most at home? How many times have you moved since college?


P.S. Even if I am not on the etsy canvas bandwagon yet, I really do like this song. Perfect for a Wednesday.

11th January
written by Michelle
I realize we’re about 2 weeks into 2013, but when you’re living out of a suitcase and catching up on emails via airports and coffee shops, this is what happens.

 New Years Eve was spent in Santa Barbara, recovering from colds, sipping soup and watching movies. I didn’t even make it till midnight. So very adult-ish and boring, huh? We have spent 3 weeks in southern California, staying with dear friends, seeing family and spending many hours on the 101, 405, 55, 57 and 134. If you’re not from the SoCal area- those are some of our freeways names.

(side note: watch this SNL video clip, The Californians. It’s hilarious and partly true.)


I got to visit some of my old favorites; Panino, the Boathouse, Butterfly Beach and the Mission lawn. And Gerber declared his Santa Barbara favorite: Blenders. We enjoyed some In-N-Out, his FIRST time. (I know, I know… he has been in CA three times and I have never introduced him to this California deliciousness. What kind of wife am I?) We visited with churches, met up with water filter project consultants and shared meals, and coffee dates with good friends.

We have been so thankfully for lazy mornings and comfortable beds and gracious hosts who have let us make a home away from home. We have had fun meals out, great conversations with friends, time to rest and explore some of California’s best cities, and lots and lots of car time to talk about baby names. Things that most people would probably envy, and we are grateful. But we’re both ready to get back….back to our home, to walking the dog and running errands and doing work we enjoy. Back to regular exercise and hanging up clothes and really, just a sense of normalcy.

I will forever and always be a list maker. I like goals and I like to write down my goals. But I have learned I need to let my lists of goals be more like prayers, with room to grow, change and shift…probably this year more than ever. Usually every January I  choose one thing I want change or start to incorporate into my life, like flossing or only using reusable bags. But this year I’m not choosing one thing, but one word.


My word for the 2013 is appreciate.


  1. To recognize the quality, significance, or magnitude of: appreciated their freedom.
  2. To be fully aware of or sensitive to; realize: I appreciate your problems.
  3.  To be thankful or show gratitude for: I really appreciate your help.
  4. To admire greatly; value.

•   •   •

When I appreciate what I have, I complain less.

When I am thankful for those around me, I don’t compare or become critical.

When I am fully aware, I appreciate my healthy body and the growing baby inside.

When I appreciate what my husband does for me and not nag him for what he didn’t do, everyone is happier.

When I am able to admire God’s endless creativity and grace, I don’t feel the need to be judgmental or change people.

When I recognize how much of my own life is a gift, I am a better version of myself.

So, will you join me in the year ahead and remind me to appreciate?