Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

13th September
written by Michelle

We have been back from vacation for almost a week now and usually after being away I am eager to jump back into our routines and the day to day rhythm of life here. I want to call people, post pictures and connect with the life we left. But I have been slowly inching my way back this time, reluctantly answering emails and making my way though unfinished work projects. I have found myself wanting to hibernate just a bit. I haven’t planned any play dates or connected with friends. I didn’t go to the grocery store until Thursday afternoon. I signed off instagram and facebook while we were away and wasn’t sure I wanted to sign back on.

I have been trying to put my finger on why this vacation felt different. Why coming back has been a bit harder.

Last year we did a whirlwind of a trip...driving and stopping in different cities along the way, which also meant unloading and re-loading the car over 65 billion times. At least that’s what it felt like. This year we knew we had one destination: San Juan Del Sur. The warm air and seaside beach town are the perfect place to settle in for vacation. Our days were simple. We rented a friend’s condo so we would have access to a kitchen. Those of you with little ones know eating at home is sometimes so much easier and less hectic for everyone. And we set aside 10 days in our schedule to just be together.

I read somewhere that the key when traveling with kids is to accommodate to your lowest common denominator. In our case, that is Elena. We usually did breakfasts at home, would venture out to the pool or beach by mid morning, grab lunch somewhere and come home for her nap time. We’d head back to the beach later in afternoon when the hottest part of the day had passed and wait to watch the sun dip behind the ocean, usually with gelato or a smoothie in hand.

It hadn’t occurred to me that Elena had never really seen the sunset or at least if she has she wasn’t old enough to understand what was happening. We live in a valley, where if you’re lucky on a clear night you can see the colors of the sunset peeking out from behind the volcanoes at dusk, but then before you know it the light fades and it’s dark. Not to mention most evenings at 6 or 6:30pm, we rarely just sit and wait for the sunset. We’re in end of the day chaos of dinner-bath-and-bedtime.

On our first evening sitting on the steps, facing the bay Elena asked, “Mama, where’s da sun going?” I explained, “It’s going to sleep. That every night the sun gets tired and has to rest and then it comes up again the next morning.” I know my science may be a bit off, but for now that answer seemed to suffice. So each evening we watched the sun go to sleep. We sat and licking our gelato before it melted, mesmerized by the colors painted in the sky. Elena would point out the “pink and wellow” and “oh-anj” (orange). The whole town kind of pauses at sunset, as people gather on the sand, beach go-ers get out their cameras and restaurant waiters find a corner to watch their table and the dipping sun. It’s like it never gets old.

After we finished our gelato we would walk along the beach, trading off holding Elena because a little someone still couldn’t get over the sand making her feet dirty. We laughed and splashed in the warm water, but she still wouldn’t dip her toes in. One evening I got down and showed her how we could make a sand castle. She liked that idea, until she realized the sand also made her hands “dooty.” She would only walk toward the water when it was presented as the only way to clean off her hands and feet. Gerber would then every so kindly carry her on top of his shoulders for the rest of the walk so her feet wouldn’t get sandy again. We’d continue walking until the last light faded over the horizon.

And we did this each and every evening.

There is something incredibly calming about your entire day revolving around the setting sun. We ate, and played and rested and then watched the sun set. Every day. And I think physically it re-set not only the pattern of my day, but the order of my heart. I understand now how they say we can re-set our cardiac rhythms after just 5 days without electricity. Granted we still had electricity, but our days weren’t ordered by clocks and schedules, but more so by a natural rhythm. And it was lovely. It made me appreciate the liturgical practice of Praying by the Hours, the pattern of praying at morning, midday, evening and bedtime. Somehow our vacation and perhaps, Elena’s schedule, warranted those natural pauses in the morning when we woke up and at midday when she napped and during the evening as the sun was setting and right before we crawled into bed.

I didn’t feel as distracted, as can be expected when there aren’t errands to do or things to get or computers to open. I didn’t bring up scheduling questions and work related emails to Gerber at 10:30pm in the bedroom. (which is probably a habit that I should stop) In fact we didn’t talk about work or ministry much at all. I snuck away for a yoga class one morning, Gerber rented a surf board and we each took a 1/2 hour lesson. We went out for dinner twice, bringing our babysitter “Daniel the Tiger” with us. :) We found this delightful place where the owners/chefs are a Argentinian/Guatemalan couple and the food is divine. We know we’ll have other years where we can go do paddle boarding together or take a motorcycle tour and stay out later than 8pm. But this year we adapted to more or less to Elena’s schedule. And you know what, it was really, pretty nice.

This was a vacation filled with the gift of quantity of time. Sure we had plenty of quality moments, but the gift of being away together with very little on our agenda or list of expectations was the real reason I think this vacation felt different. I read this article the other day from the NY times and found myself nodding along the whole time. The thing about life and relationships is you can’t plan and fit the most meaningful moments of someone’s live in into 1-hour coffee dates. I am guilty of this. In my value of being efficient and practical, sometimes giving time can be the hardest thing for me.

I’d like to think I have quality time down. I know how to have a quality evening, which questions to ask to have meaningful discussions, what topics are significant and worth while to bring up, etc. I naturally like quality time. But quantity of time is different. Quantity of time means giving the gift of being present for longer than a meal. It’s not planning, nor controlling, but just being. And here’s the thing about quantity of time it’s also not filled with super meaningful moments the whole time. It’s made up of little every day events and conversations that bubble up out of the laughter of being together. It involves being in the kitchen together or siting on the same sofa at night instead of in opposite rooms of the house.

Quantity of time happened while we drove in the car together for hourrrrrs and listened each time Elena spotted the letter “E” on a billboard and pointed, “Look, look. “eee” for Eh-nena.” (for some reason she still can’t pronounce the l in her own name).  We spent time hanging out in the kitchen, eating, washing dishes, filtering water with nowhere to run off to. When Elena napped we hung out on the front porch or on the couch. I read (and would most definitely recommend this book  and this one) while Gerber flipped through channels trying to get updates on the Guatemalan political situation. We played in the pool and took turns catching Elena as she jumped. We were both there when she swam underwater for the first time by herself and proudly wiped the water from her face without any tears!  We walked on the beach and held hands if we both had a free one. And sometimes if Elena was on Gerber’s shoulder she would push our faces together in a funny game where she “made us kiss.” She is just learning how to be silly and the whole thing was quite comical and also kind of romantic.

At home we usually spend a lot of time juggling and trading off, I make dinner, he plays with Elena. He does dishes, while I give Elena a bath. I sleep in, and he makes breakfast. I think this is how most parents of young kids do it. Tossing life’s responsibilities back and forth from one to the other, juggling chores and work and rest and hopefully, maybe even gracefully, moving forward day by day. This works for us for the most part when we’re both home. It is still probably the most efficient way to navigate both of us working and figuring out our calling and parenting and caring for one another, but it does not naturally lend itself to quantity of time together. Because when your moments feel divided, separated and fragmented and it’s hard to feel together.

Quantity of time allows room for the surprising comments and points of connection that happen in the moment, the same moments that are easy to miss when it feels like a lot of your past few months have been snippets of quality time here and there, but no large chunk of quantity of time together. If you would have asked me a month ago to name what’s been tough about the past few months, I probably would have described being apart for 42 days; Gerber working away from home and managing Healthy Communities, while I work from home and take care of Elena and our home. But framing it in this idea of quality vs quantity of time has helped me understand it a bit better. I know marriages and family need both, but I am aware that we have been missing the quantity piece for quite some time now.

Is quantity of time something that you can only really have when you step away from the rest of real life and go let’s say, on a vacation? Or are there ways to have quantity of time together in the midst of the day-to-day demands of life? Maybe that’s a rhetorical question. But if you know the answer be sure to let me know.

For now I am making a few small changes, more to help me maintain that natural rhythm that I so loved about vacation. I want to be more connected to the people I am with, than I am to the people on my phone. So I have been charging my phone downstairs at night, instead of bringing it to our bedroom. I should have done that eons ago, but it has been a simple but significant change. I am making a point to watch the sunset, even when it means dinner may not be ready or bedtime gets pushed back. That pause in the afternoon is like a breath of fresh air for my soul.

And can I be honest, you wanna know what else I am doing? I am already looking forward to next year’s vacation by the beach. Because everyone need a small corner of the world to pause, unplug and rest. And for us that place has been this small, Nicaraguan beachside town where the air is warm, the sand is soft and the sunsets are spectacular. We always leave in a frenzy of packing and preparing, worn out from long days apart working and parenting, but we come home refreshed, reconnected and reminded of what’s really important.

And I can’t think of anything better. Except that maybe that one day our little girl won’t hate the sand.

19th September
written by Michelle


We have been back for a few days. We’ve done laundry and put away our suitcases, and our tanned face our fading, but I still find little bits of sand in the bottom of the laundry basket and I smile. We needed this vacation. We needed time away as a family where we weren’t juggling life and work and ministry and a thousand little decisions about our future. We needed the simplicity that comes from being away, where our biggest decisions for the day were, where to get lunch and whose turn it was to sing Old MacDonald? This vacation invited rest and play and…lets be honest, lots and lots of driving.


God Bless, Google Maps.

This past season has been a challenging one. One friend of mine said the year after each of her children were born was the hardest in their marriage. That made sense to me. Of course having a child has been one of the best choices we’ve ever made, I also think we weren’t totally prepared for how it would change us. Gerber and Me, that is. Becoming parents has challenged us and changed us. And add into that mix two unique cultures and two very different ways of growing up and you can say we’ve had a lot to work through.

We knew we needed a break. One thing that has always been easy in our marriage is travel. We both love to travel and our travel-style (spend-less-on-hotels-more-on-activities) meshes well. Originally we thought it would be great to drive from Guatemala to Panama, covering aaallllll of Central America. But then we remembered our sweet, active 1-year-old who is not exactly found of the carseat, so we reconsidered.

Instead we spent a little over 10 days driving through El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

El Coco, EL Salvador

If you’re thinking of traveling through Central America here’s my quick recap: Air-conditioning is a must. The beaches get better the further south you go. And be patient at border crossings. There, done and done.

If you’re wanting the longer, play-by-play of where we went, where we stayed and what we ate, keep reading. But warning, it’s long. :)

Hotel La Tortuga Verde, El Salvador

We loaded up our truck early Monday morning and made reservations for the first place and then planned on figuring out the rest as we went. (September is a slow season is most of Central America, so this worked. If you’re traveling anytime from Nov-April, better to plan ahead!) We made it into El Salvador, after 2 hours at the border. Apparently our plastic boxes in the back of the truck seemed very suspicion. We arrived at La Tortuga Verde in El Coco, the most southern part of Salvador, and as soon as I stepped out of the car, I signed in happy relief.

A small part of my heart will always feel at home with my toes in the sand and the sound of waves. And although we have the beaches in Guatemala, it never really feels like the beaches I remember in California. But this was perfect.

She clearly loves the sand

Our hotel (one-step above a hostel) was literally on the sand. You walk out of your room and touch the sand. The restaurant sits on the sand and every table has an ocean view. This was great, except we quickly learned that Elena doesn’t really like the sand. Ha. The food was good, service great. And our simple, but adequate room had AC and a screened in porch with 2 hammocks. We’d put Elena to bed by 7ish and then hang out in the hammocks. We spent the day rotating between the beach, the pool and the hammocks. It was lovely.

I could be a professional hammock-baby-wearer if there were such a thing

Then we loaded up again and made plans to cross the Honduran and Nicaraguan borders. When you cross the border driving, you actually cross the border of the country you’re leaving (and turn in a bunch of paper work, get a stamp in your passport and maybe pay a multa) and then you wait to cross the border of the country you’re entering. Border crossings were not our favorite. We couldn’t find much to see/do in this southern part of Honduras so we drove straight through to Nicaragua.


Central Park in Leon, Nicaragua

(photo credit thanks to google images and

We made it to Leon, where we found a nice hotel with breakfast included and 2 blocks from the central square. Apparently there are beaches and some cool volcanoes to see around Leon, but given the heat we just stayed one night. After all day in the car we walked down to the central park at dusk. Neither one of us brought our phones or camera, but for a second it felt like we were in a plaza in Europe. By far one of the most stunning plazuelas I’ve been to Central America. Elena was entertained by the agua in the fountain, Geber I walked behind her, holding hands as she squealed with delight running around the open space.

THIS was the top of the Cathedral. Dreamy, huh?

In the morning we did a tour of the cathedral, apparently the biggest in Central America and got to walk on the top of the roof. It was designed with a special mixture of chalk and egg whites to form this white plaster. You even had to take off your shoes to walk on top! No joke. Elena enjoyed the view from the ergo, sleeping through the whole tour. We took advantage of the sleeping child, grabbed smoothies and hopped back in to car.

Next stop, Granada. We had heard wonderful things about this town, which is a sister-city to Antigua. It’s quite a bit bigger and not as “picturesque” feeling, but there is a 1-mile pedestrian only street, with outdoor dining, small cafes and live music that quickly became our favorite.

La Calzada: Granada, Nicaragua

La Calzada, it’s called. It starts at central park and ends at the Lago de Nicaragua. If you’ve ever been to Barcelona, it feels just like Las Ramblas or for my Santa Barbara friends, it would be like State Street, but smaller and no cars or stoplights… or Abercrombie.

We ate at this place recommended by a friend of mine and may have gone back the next day for drinks and snacks. It was kid friendly, had hammocks inside and a gorgeous garden with a fountain. (agua!) Can you tell what things entertained our daughter?!

We found the best little gelato place owned by a man from France. And spent lots of time walking up and down this street. By the end of the night Gerber was pushing the stroller and I was carrying Elena in the ergo. As he hauled the empty stroller up the flight of stairs at the hotel he said, “Well, at least we have a stroller to push the diaper bag?” Ha. Has there ever been a truer statement?! We learned a lot traveling with a wee-one. Elena usually can only handle the stroller for about 20 min and only then, if there is something to look at, otherwise she wants to be down and walking. Active one, that girl. I don’t know where she gets it??


We stayed at this place, which was ok, kind of a quirky style in one the oldest still standing mansions in Granada. The silver lining was a wonderful breakfast buffet with French toast, eggs to your gusto, and crepes. We did a lot of juggling, eating and chasing after a toddler, while trying to get a few pieces of food in her system. Most places in Central America don’t have high chairs (which we has assumed), but what we didn’t realize was how distracted and hard it would be to feed our little one without anyway to strap her down. By far, the best part of the hotel was the 30 min message that was included for each night you stay!

View of Lago de Nicaragua and smooth wide sidewalks!

Since we had a car we spent one day exploring the area just outside of town. We had heard about Lago Apoyo (which is kind of comparable to Lake Atitlan, but much, much cleaner!) It’s right in the middle of a reserve so Nicaragua has done much to protect this little gem, especially consider how polluted the much larger Lago de Nicaragua is.

Laguna Beach Club: Lago Apoyo

We spent a day here, at the Laguna Beach Club, and kind of wish we would have spent a few nights there as well. It was delightful: warm water, best fish I had on the whole trip, a little grassy area and hammocks built into the side of a hillside.


Elena is down to one nap a day right around 12pm, so I just held her wherever we were. I mean how much better does it get, holding a sleeping baby, reclining in a hammock overlooking water. I got to read and rest and Gerber went to kayak. Win win. I will say given her natural inclination to nap while being held, she’s a pretty easy traveler. Hold her, nurse her and she can sleep anywhere :) We didn’t even travel with a pack N play, just a camping pad because our little one still sleeps better on the floor.

We loaded up again. And by “we” I really mean Gerber. Bless him. He must have loaded and un-loaded our stuff and taken off and on the monster size wheels of the bob like a 100 times. #husbandoftheyear

(If you made it this far, you either must really love traveling or are just scrolling down to see more cute pictures of Elena.)

Our Room: Hotelito El Coco Azul

Next stop was San Juan del Sur, originally we booked this little hotelito for 2 nights, but we ended up staying for 5 days! It was simple, clean, had a wonderful ocean breeze and was less than 1/2 a block from the beach.

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

We’d wake up early, thanks to our adorable alarm clock and the first words out of her mouth, “agua?” agua?” So we’d throw on our swimsuits and walk down to the beach. We did morning beach walks most days, and sunset swims. The water was always warm, the sand soft and the surrounding cliffs and boats in the harbor made me take gazillions of sunset pictures.

Playa de Remanso, Nicaragua

We’d come back to our hotel in time for breakfast and then decide which beach to explore for the day. We spent one morning here, where Gerber rented a surfboard and tried surfing for the first time. I held Elena, who decided to take a 2- hour nap (she never takes TWO-hour naps!) listening to the sound of the crashing waves. I think I need to sit by the ocean every afternoon. It would greatly improve our nap situation over here.


Marsella Beach Front Hotel, Nicaragua

Then another day we drove north to this beach and found a great hotel where we had use of the pool and patio and beach access as long we ordered lunch at the restaurant. If you’re vising Nicaragua and don’t have a car you can take a shuttle to all of these places. My friend Brooke lives there and had tons of great recommendations. You can check out her website San Juan Live for more info.


In the afternoon we’d usually walk along the “boardwalk” - just a strip of restaurants and surf shops and get smoothies.

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Sunsets in San Juan are like a call to prayer. Everyone turns their chairs and their gaze to watch the colors dance across the sky as the sun dips below the horizon. It’s breath taking, really. It invites a moment to pause. To stop doing everything else and just sit. And be. And watch. There were no other distractions, nothing else demanding our attention, there was no 3G, no meetings, no dinner to cook, just the simple joy of watching the sunset.

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Sometimes I feel closest to God watching the sun set over the water.


There was one evening I sat on the sand watching the two loves of my life play in the shallow breaks of the waves. I realized in the past year one of the things that has brought me the greatest joy, is seeing Gerber father Elena. He loves her fiercely and cares for her with tenderness only a father can give his daughter. She laughs with him more than any other. And as I watched them run back forth, trying to not let the water touch them, this new love washed over me. Like a fresh start of parenting and marriage, with a renewed dose of grace and gratitude.



One afternoon we splurged and asked our friend for a babysitter recommendation and left Elena in good hands, so we could try paddle boarding. We rented two boards and after we managed to get over the waves, we paddled around the harbor in between boats and along the coastline for an hour. I may have gotten the arm workout of the century, but well worth it. At one point we managed to both sit down and face the sunset. Gerber grabbed on to my paddle and pulled my and my board close to his. We smiled. It was the perfect amount of new-ness and adventure, and just a tad scary to be out so far away from shore. It had been along time since we did something new and fun together.

My ideal way to do the beach

San Juan stole our hearts. The laid back lifestyle, the amazing beaches, the beautiful sunsets and the affordable beach-style living are all pluses! We even pondered staying longer, but decided we needed a place with a kitchen so we could do some meals at home for Elena and for our budget. But we couldn’t find a place to rent. So we vowed to come back.

Look closely: HER BABY FOOTPRINTS!! Awwww.

I have always wanted a little place to call our own, or a place to say, “This is where our family goes on vacation. This is where we go to recharge, to play and to rest.” And I think San Juan could be that place for us. It’s a long drive, but doable, even with a toddler!

Me and My Girl: San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

After we packed up (yet again), we made our way back toward Managua, where we stopped to visit some friends who had moved from Guatemala. We originally we’re going to just stop for lunch…but ended up staying the night. I like friends like that. They opened up their home and their life and let us live right along with them for 24 hours.

Elena + Andrew: Future Bilingual/Bicultural Friends

They have two kids, and Elena had more toys then she knew what to do with. They are also a bicultural couple- he’s from Minnesota and she’s from Guatemala- and they are a bit ahead of us in the journey of parenting and marriage and ministry. It was a joy just talking with them and realizing, oh, ok good…so this is normal? We hope to see them next time we’re in Nicaragua.

Car Naps

We left their home at 10:30am and started driving. We knew we had three border crossings ahead of us and weren’t sure how far we’d get. We were going to stop in El Salvador, spend one more night by the beach and then head home. But after 9 hours in the car, Elena fell asleep in my arms. (I know I know, you can all gasp now. Car seats are not required here :) So we decided to just keep driving and avoid one more night un-packing and re-packing the car. After a quick stop for some tacos, and a bathroom break we made it home after 15 hours. Tired, but grateful.

The View of San Juan Del Sur Harbor

Traveling has a way of doing that…filling you up, giving you lots of be grateful for and making you slightly exhausted.

My Family of Three

Gerber and I have traveled often, but this was our first time traveling as a family. And in many ways we are still learning how to be a family-of-three. We are re-learning how to be husband and wife and mom and dad. How to be us, with her.

Traveling with a little one changes things for sure. We worked around her schedule and needs, which meant most nights we were in our hotel room by 7pm. One of us would head out and bring back dinner and then we’d sit on the floor in the dark, eating dinner with plastic forks, pointing and whispering and trying not to laugh. It was simple, some might say ridiculous, but we were together. We went to sleep early because our days started when the sun came in. We learned to reorient our expectations and plans based not on what we wanted to do, but what we could all three realistically do or enjoy or handle. And maybe that’s what a lot of the first year of parenthood is about, about re-orienting and re-arranging your expectations and plans.

Now we just need a few days to recover from our vacation, right? Isn’t that how it always is?


26th April
written by Michelle

Well, this post is a week late but…heeey, that’s how life is going right about now? If you’re not familiar Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the week leading up to Easter and it is thee craziest, busiest, most touristy time of year in Antigua. Actually, it’s really 40 days of crazy all through lent, but that week being the craziest.

For my Santa Barbara friends, imagine 40+ days of FIESTA. Yeah. You get the picture.

I’ve decided Semana Santa is like having an entire country on Spring Break…the SAME WEEK. Yep, all the schools, all the universities, everyone, has that week off! Banks and stores usually close from Thursday-Sunday and the entire country goes on vacation. It’s actually a pretty fun vibe, unless you’re stuck sitting in traffic for hours!

Gerber and I have tried to travel around Guatemala before during this week, and it always goes pretty well until about Wed night when we’re sitting on the highway not moving, trying to make it to the coast with the all of the other 13 million Guatemalans. Ok, I’m exaggerating. Maybe. Coming from SoCal I’d like to think I can handle traffic…but traffic during Semana Santa is like no other.

All this to say, this year we had the week off, but we decided to just stay-caion it right around town. And it was delightful. I did a grocery store run on Monday and stalked up for the week and then we used the motorcycle to get around the rest of the week. We did a day trip to the beach with G’s family, went to Antigua to see some the lovely alfombras, and spent lots of time hanging out in our front yard. Gerber and I did a few movie nights and were usually in bed before 10pm. Because let’s be honest vacation is a relative term when you have a cute, squirmy, hungry 5:30am alarm clock.

You know what made it feel the most “vacation-y“? (is that a word?) I pulled put my “old” (from 2006) DSLR camera. I don’t know why I have not taken it out in the past year?! I guess the handy little iphone is always right there in my pocket. Oh, how Steve Jobs has changed the world. Anyhow, somehow choosing to be intentional about bringing the “good” camera made me feel a bit more like a tourist in my own town. And I must say the quality of the photos really is so much better. I might even lug it around on our upcoming trip to Ohio.

So with that said, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Here was our Semana Santa 2014:







still her favorite way to sleep. #godblesstheergo



Guatemalans are serious about the shade. He said he bought it for “Elena”



my two loves.



She loved the water. Probably because it was warm. Just wait Elena, till the cold of the California ocean.



Our sweet niece, Emma.



If we weren’t at the beach, we were in this pool.




She may not be the best sleeper on the block, but she’s got this eating thing down.




She fascinated with all things water.



what? you don’t let your child chew on the hose?! #momfail #guatemalawater

So, basically Semana Santa consisted of lots of pictures of Elena :)