TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 5 | TO PRENZLAUER BERG + ALEXANDERPLATZ

saffron day 5

Curiosity got the best of me as I wondered about the coffee at The Barn. Was it worth the hype, I wondered as we sat in the U2 and rode half an hour to our destination in Prenzlauer Berg. Twenty stops later, we were at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz.

Without Internet access during this trip, other than the connection at the flat, I had to recall the Google map I glanced at last night on my iPad. There were two stops on either side of the coffeehouse and we exited the first one. I knew we had to cross a main street but I failed to write down the address of The Barn. As soon as I saw the street name Schönhauser Allee, a sound of familiarity rang in my mind.

We passed a sign letting us know we were now entering Prenzlauer Berg. "Mama, why are you photographing the sign", asked Saffron. "Is it so you know how to get back", she continued. It was a valid question since she's seen me photograph signs with my iPhone in case we got lost. No, this time I simply thought the sign was interesting in the sense it was part of the story of our day together.

prenzlauer berg sign

The first thing I noticed in this part of the city wasn't the graffiti, albeit graffiti graced the walls along our walk. The large picture windows with the people sitting in front of them and looking out were the first thing I noticed. Seeing how it was also a nice part of our story - and not wanting to seem obvious about taking a photo of the two women who were already eyeing me - I had Saffron sit on a stool in front of the window as I photographed the scene.

saffron outside the barn

The signboard outside the door mirrored the simplicity of the indoor décor - sparse, neutral in colour, and devoid of the adornments of some coffeehouses. The charm was in the rustic feel of the country, complete with grey blankets on benches and barnlike lumber throughout. A cozy fireplace would have made the place more charming and worthy of staying longer. Regardless, it was a memorable experience.

the barn sign

The white walls were bare except for the few wire cage lamps hanging on them. Small black and white signs along the picture window walls read "no laptops" in lowercase letters. Minimalistic is how I would describe the place. No plates, merely wooden boards on which the slice of carrot cake was served.

The cake was good. Saffron kept pointing out the large pieces of carrots and almonds. We split one slice as it was fairly large for one person to eat. She told me I should develop a recipe for carrot cake. "You should call it", she paused to think, "carrot almond cake". I smiled at her and drank my flat white.

The reviews online stated the coffeehouse had no sugar anywhere within sight. I always add raw sugar to any coffee I've ordered and I dared not ask for any. On The Barn's website they state the reason for the lack of sugar is they feel it distracts from the flavour of the coffee. I decided simply to try it and see if this flat white was worth the twenty train station rides. It was. The coffee was not bitter. It was smooth and pleasant. An opinion merely my own.

the barn inside

Having eaten our cake, we were ready to leave. I had my mind set on walking about the streets. Saffron, however, had other ideas in mind. An eight-year old is not interested in seeing the sights. At least not my eight-year old. She wanted to look at toys at the toy store. Not buy them. Simply look at them.

graffiti star brick wall

"Walking is boring", Saffron exclaimed. I assured her our next stop would be Alexanderplatz to look at toys but not before we spent a little more time walking up the street. Along the way, we observed more graffiti. She was happy to pose for me again albeit the cold was biting at her fingers. I held her hand and encouraged her to enjoy the walk and the surroundings for a while longer.

saffron and graffiti wall

I was beginning to realise how going to Prague with her would not have been as great an idea as I had initially thought. She is simply too young to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of new places. I explained to her the significance of her being able to go live in another country at such a young age - or any age for that matter. One day, I hope she will realise the great opportunity she had.

tower clock

We approached a hair salon with a sign board outside advertising children's haircuts for 15€. Not minding the fact the sign said something about appointments; I walked in and asked, in German, about getting my daughter's haircut.

As in typical German fashion, "no" means no exceptions and don't you dare ask. In other words, "We are German and we bend the rules for nobody". Not that they were busy as there were only two clients in the little salon. We walked out and continued our stroll up the street.

Upon our return, I stood in front of the window and had no problem photographing the pink cushions. I admired them as we passed them by and did not want to leave without photographing them.

pink cushions

As promised, we went to the toy section at Galeria Kaufhof on Alexanderplatz. But not before we walked through the greatly organised food section downstairs on the ground floor. We left without buying any chocolates, but we sampled a dark and light nougat bar. In the wine and liqueur section was a lady offering samples of Slivovitz from the Czech Republic. At home, I have a bottle of Croatian Slivovitz I mix with honey and lemon juice for times I have a bad sore throat. I knew of the strong taste. Nonetheless, I decided to have a sip. Even a sip was too much.

galeria kaufhof alexanderplatz

Having accomplished the mission of satisfying my curiosity about the coffee without sugar at The Barn, we headed home for a late lunch. Above in the cloudy skies, the Berliner Fernsehturm was a beautiful sight as it was embraced by fog. A symbol of Berlin, it is a striking tower with beautiful views of the city and is worth another trip to Alexanderplatz to show my daughter the views from above in the rotating restaurant.

fernsehturm alexanderplatz

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 4 | AN AFTERNOON AT WITTENBERGPLATZ

saffron by ivy

The cloudy weather begs for one to stay indoors and curl up in bed. For a while after breakfast we did just that until I awoke from a long nap at 14,00. I had to open the windows and let the cold air in. Then I dialed down the radiator and decided the maximum amount was simply too warm and possibly furthering my sleepy tendencies.

I warmed the lentil soup from last night's dinner and Saffron and I sat at the table indoors for lunch before heading out somewhere. Anywhere. I told Saffron we would get on the U-Bahn and go wherever it took us. I intended to go to the Krumme Lanke station for cake and coffee at a place I've been before. We decided we would go there tomorrow. Today we would ride in the opposite direction.

As I remember from years ago, the ticket system for the U-Bahn changed to where you now are no longer able to use the same ticket for a return trip. This can become limiting if one wants to ride multiple times during the day. My daughter was able to get a monthly student ticket since she resides here. I will have to purchase a 7-day ticket tomorrow so we are able to go to more places during this next week.

yellow leaves close up

On our way to the U-Bahn station, we spotted a green bike. Not wanting to be obvious about making a photograph of someone's bike, I had Saffron stand to one side as if I was making a photograph of only her.

saffron and green bike

Then I had her move to one side so I could make a photograph of the green bike. After my experience with the lady at the farmer's market two years ago who chased after me for photographing the eggs at her stand, I am more careful about my choice of subjects to photograph in Germany.

green bike

Wittenbergplatz was our destination today. It is a place we never miss on a trip to Berlin as the toy section on the fifth floor of KaDeWe is one of the best I've found. Our first stop was the Ravensburger puzzle section where I found a 500-piece puzzle for my son. Today was merely a window shopping day as I needed ideas for Christmas presents for my children.

wittenbergplatz station

Books are something I've given my children every year for Christmas and a tradition I intend to continue. I do not believe in overindulging the children with toys. When they are given too many options they are overwhelmed and start tossing toys all over the place. Now that I have a place of my own, I can control what comes into my home.

With fewer toy options, the imagination is expanded as I have seen with my two youngest. At first when my kids started staying with me, my middle daughter complained of being bored because she didn't have anything to do. In reality, she was used to the closets full of toys at the old place and had to readjust her thinking to use what she had available. My son, on the other hand, rarely appears bored. He seems to find something to do with anything at his disposal.

My oldest is into anything crafty and was perusing the craft section whilst I walked over to the book section. I flipped through several bake books but did not find anything to my liking. I then walked over to the children's book section and decided I need to expand my German children book collection which is essentially non-existent.

ka de we

We also made our way to the Lego store nearby and browsed the various sets. Saffron pointed out a set she'd like for Christmas. I saw one I wouldn't mind building with my son. Since we would not be spending Christmas together, I told her she could open her present when she returns home in February. The younger two will open their presents after Christmas since this year is not my year to have them.

lego store berlin

Before heading to either of the two stores, I noticed the broken link sculpture. One that was not surrounded by fences as in August. My intent every time I've been to Berlin was to photograph the link sculpture. Not merely a pass by photograph, but one up close.

It so happened this group of three Germans beat me to the sculpture and stayed a long while filming some sort of travel documentary. One girl on the bike rode toward the links as the guy with the video camera and the other lady with the sound equipment captured her riding through the links. All I was able to understand was "Charlottenburg ist...".

I took hold of Saffron's arm as we backed away from the sound lady in case Saffron started talking as they filmed. I would wait as long as it took to get my photographs. And we did as we sat on the nearby bench.

chain link sculpture berlin

At one point, the three Germans moved back out of the way and I inserted myself between them and the sculpture. I was able to make a few photographs but will most likely return with my longer lens another day for more photographs. Today I did the best I could with what I had.

link sculpture close up

Saffron is always a willing model and I'm happy about finally getting to make photographs of her.

link and saffron diptych

One can go to Berlin many times and yet every time is a different experience. I'm glad to have the chance to share this experience with Saffron.

saffron link close up

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 3 | A RAINY WEDNESDAY FARMER'S MARKET

saffron rainy day

We were awake early enough and walked to another bakery for this morning's brötchen. One with real croissants and non-airy bread. One merely a block away. Saffron approved of the croissant, preferring it to the one from yesterday morning's breakfast. Initially, she had me split the croissant between us, and then asked for the other half. She offered me a taste and I could see why she liked it as it was flaky and buttery and soft.

After breakfast, we boarded the U-Bahn and rode the three stations to the farmer's market. Seeing how the rain still was not letting up, we perused the books at Hugendubel for 20 minutes in hopes the rain would subside. It didn't. But we wanted to return home as soon as possible and enjoy the rain from the warm flat so we walked to the market in the rain.

"Are we going home now?" Saffron asked ten minutes into the shopping. We made our way around the market twice before heading home. The Wednesday farmer's market is smaller than the one on Saturdays, but we needed only a handful of items today.

saffi at farmer's market

The most important item was the quail eggs. Or as I call them "baby eggs". Every time I come to Berlin, I make sure to buy them. At the market on Karl-August-Platz there are two vendors selling quail eggs. One sells a dozen for € 2,20, while the other vendor sells 18 eggs for € 3. I opted for the 18 eggs.

quail eggs

We needed onions, garlic, and fresh thyme for tonight's lentil soup. And a few potatoes for another night. Cooking whilst traveling brings into perspective how much food we actually need and how much we end up throwing away as a result of purchasing too much.

vegetable basket

A 500g bag of Pardina lentils doesn't look like a lot. I used up 100g of the lentils and ended up with a pot full of soup for at least two dinners for two people. We also bought two Gala apples and had one for dinner along with the lentil and rice soup. I told Saffron these were the best Gala apples I've ever tasted, as these are the variety we purchase back home.

german gala apples

We left the market and walked the short distant to Kardstadt where Saffron wanted to buy a bead set with her own money. I was across the aisle from her eyeing the candy section. It was difficult to resist buying more German chocolates - marzipan nougat and marzipan kartoffeln this time. After a final stop at Lidner's bakery for two brötchen for lunch sandwiches, we were finally home.

saffron boots

The first thing Saffron did was open the bead set and make a bracelet for me. She wanted it to say "LOVE YOU MAMA", but realised there were no "y" letters for some reason. She improvised nicely despite the setback.

bracelet for mama

Saffron saw how I put her bracelet on the window sill to photograph it with more light. So, she grabbed her (my old) iPhone and did the same.

saffron with iphone
saffron photographs bracelet

She then asked if we could take a nap as she was tired from walking around in the rain. We ended up taking a three-hour long nap. I woke up before my daughter and admired how she slept so peacefully.

saffron naps

As soon as Saffron was awake, we had a late lunch. She then worked on her math lessons but forgot her eraser at Oma's. Tomorrow will be a trip to the store for a new eraser so she can do more lessons from her book.

Whilst I made lentil soup, I let Saffron watch some cartoons in German. I also asked her for the third time if she really is opposed to taking the train ride to Prague. I have tried convincing her to want to go, but she keeps refusing. When I ask for a reason, she gives me two.

One reason is she simply wants to be in an apartment so we can cook and bake. The other reason is a language one. She knows only three languages (four if you count the Spanish she learned in school), and Czech is not one of them. Valid reasons and I admire her for stating her wishes so clearly. Therefore, I now need to find another flat to rent for the remaining five nights. The one next to Oma is still available ("The Dungeon"), so it might be the one we rent.

brotchen sandwich

The other item I purchased at Kardstadt was a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wine I found for € 4,99 . Wine in Europe is affordable when compared with the prices we pay in the States. A similar bottle would have cost three times as much back home.

montepulciano

The rain was a nice change today. Much nicer was our being able to admire it from inside of a warm flat. I only hope it is raining back home so my plants will be watered as I was unable to fix the corrosion on the irrigation timer before I left. It broke down during my last trip and another purchase simply wasn't worthwhile. But I won't be too heartbroken if the plants don't survive. Having the freedom to travel and spend time with my daughter once again is what is truly worthwhile.

wet leaves

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 2 | DAY OUT WITH THE GIRL

saffron funny face

One of the things I love about Europe is the ability to walk to the bakery every morning for freshly baked breakfast rolls. By 9:00 we were awake and ready to go to the bakery for brötchen. Saffron also wanted a croissant but I found out it goes by another name here in Germany. Something starting with "Butter...".

Breakfast was the typical brötchen with butter and sauerkischmarmelade (sour cherry marmalade). And fruit - banana this morning. It had rained overnight, so we ate indoors instead of on the balcony.

After breakfast, Saffron and I retreated to the loft where she read to me from her new Magic Treehouse book. I admitted to her that I had fallen asleep last night when she was reading - not even getting past the first two pages. So, she started from the beginning.

saffron loft

Once again, I found jetlag taking a tight hold on me as I fought hard to stay awake. Saffron would look over to me on the other side of the loft making sure I was awake. I admit I wasn't for the most part. After she read the first two chapters, I suggested we take a nap before heading out again. She wasn't too tired and asked if she could get up and go colour.

saffron through railing

At 13:30 I awoke from my nap and had Saffron work on her math lessons. She was working on two-digit subtraction visually - a method with tally marks, dots, and stars she came up with which works for her.

saffron math lesson
math lesson diptych

As she finished up her lesson, I took a moment to notice the beautiful autumn colours outside the window. It was nothing I would witness back home so I basked in this rare opportunity.

yellow tree from window

After her math lesson, we sat down for lunch. Saffron wanted the same cheese sandwich as yesterday but this time the bread was a mini baguette we bought at the bakery this morning. She preferred the softer bread of yesterday's lunch.

Then it was time to play with the Schleich figures. I was given the choice of two. I chose the fairy and the smaller horse. Saffron informed me the fairy was the mother of the smaller horse.

schleich figures

Saffron chose the two unicorns - Sparkly and Sparkly's mother. The "kids" played hide-and-seek and tag whilst the "mothers" sat to the side and conversed.

schleich and saffron

My girl was excited to have me see her at jazz dance class this afternoon. Not being sure of the time it would take to get there, we left early. We passed the bookstore we discovered yesterday on our walk where Saffron had purchased a small book on unicorns.

bookstore and trees

She was having a great time simply walking around with me and posing for photographs. She doned her handmade orange dress. The one she sewed by hand. The feature I like most is the one she also included on the dress she made for me - a hood.

saffron blue orange

Making our way to the U-Bahn, and remembering Saffron's monthly pass this time, we rode the three stops to Bismarckstrasse. On the way, I observed the feared ticket inspector. Luckily he went the opposite direction of where I was sitting and had caught a guy with an expired pass. I checked my ticket and noticed I had validated a child's ticket - one leftover from this summer. I took a chance on the return home as I figured the inspector would have a more difficult time in a crowded subway than in the middle of the day.

theodor heuss platz

Seeing how we still had time before the 17:30 class start, we sat at a coffeehouse on Zillestrasse. I enjoyed my flat white. Saffron sipped her pineapple juice and nibbled on the vanilla cookies. Three men at the neighbouring table were discussing a potential business deal. Two British guys and one German guy. I couldn't make out what they were saying but they were interesting to observe.

Afterwards, we strolled along Wilmersdorfer Strasse and decided to stop in at Kardstadt's. Saffron looked at drawing books and stickers whilst I browsed the much desired German chocolates. I promised her we would return after her class for stickers and chocolate.

Upon reaching our stop at Grunewald, it started to sprinkle. Neither of us had an umbrella with us but it wasn't necessary today. As we walked to the dance studio, we noticed the door was locked. Granted, we were 25 minutes early. So, we waited.

grunewald

Eventually two girls showed up but no teacher. The one girl with her mom left precisely at 17:29, figuring if the teacher wasn't there by now, she would not be coming at all. Saffron and I left two minutes later.

lamp bw

At the S-Bahn station, we ended up missing two subways as Saffron insisted we were waiting on the correct platform. We were not. 25 minutes later we were boarding the S-Bahn back to Charlottenburg.

grunewald sbahn

As promised, we returned to Kardstadt's for stickers and German chocolate. I noticed boxes of Reber's Mozart Kugeln on the discount table. Eight kugeln for € 2.99. So, I bought one box of those and a small marzipan schwartbrot.

We returned home and had dinner. Cooked potatoes, per Saffron's request. She ate hers with ketchup; I ate mine with saure sahne. I also made a salad for myself of arugula, baby tomatoes, feta, and rosemary crackers. Saffron eyed my salad and asked if she could have some. I gave her the rest and she liked it, requesting more for tomorrow's lunch minus the tomatoes.

A day out with my girl was a day well spent. Now that the two-day jetlag time was over, we can enjoy more days to come.

wilmersdorf strasse

BERLIN BOUND

vino volo newark

To get to where you need to go, the journey might not always be an elegant one. At times you will fall back on your sleep hours or forego food in order to ensure you are on time. In my case, it meant both. No food. Until I arrived at the airport. No sleep. Not one single wink. That is until I sat on the first plane to Houston. I feared if I slept even two or three hours it would be more difficult to awaken from a deep slumber.

On the flight from Houston to Newark, I intended to sleep the entire flight. Thirst and hunger cried out for me to quiet their desperate pleas. The Texas-sized currant scone I bought at the Austin airport was still in my pocket, on its way to dissolving into crumbs. It was a far cry from the scones at lovecrumbs in Edinburgh. But it was the only food I had with me other than a banana I brought from home.

austin airport

Since I was now in a temporary state of awakeness, I turned on the screen on the back of my seat instead. I wondered if there would be anything interesting to watch on this short flight as watching movies on long flights is something I tend to do in lieu of sleep. The title of one movie intrigued me due to my destination: "A Coffee in Berlin". What fascinated me most was the fact the movie was shot entirely in black and white. Stripped of colour, the story showed more depth, more soul, more of what is behind the eyes staring back at us from the screen.

"A Coffee in Berlin" (originally titled "Oh Boy") follows the story of Niko - a young man trying to figure out a life where he doesn't quite fit in. The substory is his never-ending pursuit of a cup of coffee, the ensuing disappointment of which is well-woven throughout the movie. The movie starts by him being dumped by his girlfriend. It moves on to his being harassed by two men pretending to be subway ticket agents. Then he was confronted by a former fat girl turned skinny girl - yet still psychotic. He dropped out of law school to "think" for two years, whilst his father kept sending monthly tuition money. The story is nothing close to a Hollywood movie. There is no happy ending. No perfect wrapping up of the storyline as there really is no storyline. It is everyday life and the black and white aspect of it is a perfect choice.

So begins my quest. My pursuit of the next chapter in my strange but interesting life as I get ready to board my third plane...the one to Berlin.

newark airport windows

THRESHOLD

bed stu boots
‘Twas the day before travel, when throughout all the house
persevering hands and feet were bustling about.

On the verge of travel, on the threshold of adventure. So the journey begins.

There is great satisfaction in a job well done. Knowing we've done all we could in the amount of time allotted. Though not everything is perfect, we realise it's the best we can do in this moment. Next time will be better.

The excitement of someplace new, somewhere other than our own home. Going out of our comfort zone into a world more vast than the walls of our homes. Such is the euphoria of travel despite the oft delays and inconveniences. 

Moving forward without looking back. Living life to the fullest. On the threshold of life we sometimes stand wishing for life to come to us instead of simply going out and embracing it with full force.

SPORTY SPICE

cinnamon pool

For a while, I wondered which activity interested my middle child. Her older sister showed a penchant for fashion design at the age of four whilst her younger brother exceled at building puzzles and Lego structures prior to attending preschool. It wasn't until this summer I realised Cinnamon's beloved activity - swimming.

Cinnamon has taken quite well to swimming. This past summer I observed and photographed her and her siblings during swimming lessons in Berlin. Every morning we made our way through the maze of U-Bahns, stairs, and surface streets to get to their outdoor pool location. On the second day of my four-day trip, we ended up taking the U2 in the opposite direction instead of the U7 as I relied on Saffron's instructions. This ended up in Sage tripping and bumping his head, whilst holding my hand, as we ran to minimize our lateness.

This week I observed Cinnamon learning the various strokes in the 30-minute lessons she's been getting from a private trainer. I smiled when I heard the instructor tell my daughter she was very disciplined when it came to her carrying out his instructions. The most used phrase was "bubble arm, breathe arm" as she made her way numerous time across the lap pool and back.

breathe arm

Earlier in the week, as Sage and I were relaxing by the pool during Cinnamon's lesson, I showed him ballet performances by men on my iPhone and pointed out how they could fly through the air. I have been trying to convince my son to take up a sport - any sport - though quite unsuccessfully. Flying seemed to intrigue him to the point where he was asking when he will be attending ballet so he could fly through the air. He also wanted to know if he would be wearing costumes.

After the lesson that day, the discussion ensued between brother and sister about boys wearing dresses. Cinnamon insisted boys did not get to wear dresses during ballet class. As their discussion continued and we made our way home, I was amazed to see the contrast of their talents and glad my sporty spice girl is now doing what she loves.

sage bright sun

RECOVERY

sunset october

As the sun set on this Thursday night, the day-long battle of the lawnmowers, trimmers, edgers, and grass blowers was finally over. Prior to the landscaping company arriving, the construction workers played with their equipment. I look forward to the time when construction is completed in this community. Despite the noise, I managed to get two more hours of sleep after walking the kids to the bus stop. The rest of the day was spent recovering from the sudden illness of yesterday and contemplating minimalism.

Whilst in bed, I read through comments posted on the article about the stay-at-home mom who realised she was a "luxury" to her spouse. Though we could debate the pros and cons ad nauseum, an important aspect of the case for staying home with small children is having a supportive spouse. One who believes you add value to the family. One who supports you emotionally, believes in you, is there for you, and loves you for the person you are and will be. People change as years progress. The key is to adapt to the change.

At one point, I had to click away from the distraction but wondered how I could continue to be there for my children despite my no longer being a spouse, rather a single parent with no income. Savings takes one only so far. One solution which came to mind is downsizing the living space. An article that furthered this thought was one I perused on the Houzz site yesterday morning. One entitled "6 Mental Tricks to Outsmart Your Small Space". All six points were enticing, including the tiny-home movement and especially the last one, "Pretend It's a Vacation Rental".

One of my favourite vacation rentals abroad is Greyfriar's Attic in Edinburgh. I've been there twice in the past year and would love to return sometime in the future. What enticed me most was the coziness of the sloped attic roof, the light from the skylight, and the window seat in the bedroom. The central location is most ideal with the view of Edinburgh castle from the dining area and the streets of city centre within a short walk.  I could live in such a place despite its small size and because of its minimalism.

I recall how my children adapted well to the minimalistic vacation rentals in Berlin. Living in one-bedroom apartments was sufficient for them as it is for many families around the world. It seems only in America have we become accustomed to the notion of needing more space. All at the sacrifice of working longer hours and leaving child-rearing in the hands of strangers. Albeit I have never fancied the notion of a nanny raising my children, I realise some people have no other choice. Cities with higher costs of living, such as New York and San Francisco, offer little choice but for parents to work. In the meantime, my search for flexible employment will continue. If the option is available, sacrificing living space for the opportunity to be present for my children as long as they are still young is worth considering.

MEDICINE HOUSE

lego map

As I grabbed hold of Sage's hand tonight, I noticed it was cooler than mine. He did too. I put his hand on my forehead and he exclaimed, "Mama! You're hot!" The fever started earlier this morning and has not yet subsided. From the time I dropped off the children at the bus stop until it was time to pick them up at noon, due to it being a half-day today, I stayed in bed and slept as much as the illness allowed me to sleep. Chills accompanied me throughout the day despite my having been curled up under the down comforter. Nausea and abdominal pain followed shortly thereafter.

Upon our return home, I told the children I needed to lie down some more. "I love taking care of tebe", voiced Sage ("tebe" is "you" in Croatian). "It's nice", he continued. So, both of the children pretended to be nurses, taking care of me in between their building a "medicine house", as Sage explained. Every 10 to 15 minutes, nurse Sage would walk over to me and give me medicine in the form of water. A few minutes later, nurse Cinnamon would rush over to take the bottle of water away and return it to its place on the floor. At times they argued over who got to administer the medicine, but the system in place seemed to work well. They proved they could play nice together.

cinnamon up hairdo

This stomach flu, if that's what this is, could not have come at a more inconvenient time as I will be departing for Berlin early Sunday morning. Saffron called on Skype this afternoon and was able to see her siblings due to their early release day. She let me know she's packed her bag and is anxiously awaiting my arrival. I wish I could say I was ready but two illnesses this week served as hindrances to my plans.

Albeit today was another setback, I have confidence tomorrow will be a better day.

pajamas


ELEMENTARY

kids and legos

Innocence and simplicity. Life starts out with the bare essentials. The elementary necessities of survival - food, shelter, clothing. Somewhere along the way we set about to accumulate more, believing we need more in order to have a fulfilled life. Before long, simplicity becomes complexity whilst innocence turns to corruption and eventual dissatisfaction of some aspect of life. At that moment, we lose sight of what it means to truly enjoy life.

cinnamon legos

Saturday morning as I was sitting at The Hideout Coffeehouse downtown and enjoying my flat white coffee and pumpkin muffin, I noticed a man and his son at a neighboring table. The boy must have been perhaps 9 or 10 years old and was busy explaining something to his father in a most enthusiastic manner. I heard the conversation but did not listen. I merely observed the gestures of the boys' hands as they waved about. He was excited to explain to his attentive father his latest thoughts. I smiled as I witnessed this experience. Albeit I was not tuned in to the words the boy was saying, the son's fervour spoke volumes. 

At that moment, I wondered at which age we lose the joy and spirit we once had as children. The time in our lives which were once simple and innocent. A time when we possessed the carefree nature of an unjaded heart and an inquisitive mind. When everything seemed possible and we viewed the world as an endless stream of possibilities.   

Children need far less than we think they do. Even less than we lead them to believe they do. They need not a room filled with toys, electronics to keep them passively entertained, or endless extracurricular activities which take time away from their thoughts. What children need most of all - beyond the elementary necessities - is love and an attentive ear to listen to their impassioned cries of joy and enthusiasm. To help build confidence and develop their inquisitive minds.

sage catchlights bw


SICK DAY

sick boy bw

The darkness enveloped us this morning whilst the gusty wind nipped at our clothes as we made our way to the bus stop. In the distance, flashes of lightning broke through the darkness at regular intervals bringing with it the jolting thunder and the impending rain as Cinnamon and I watched from afar. Her brother would not be joining her on the journey to school today. As she walked towards the open doors, she whispered: "You have to take care of Sagey". The kindness in her heart was touching. She waved goodbye and climbed aboard.

It started as his reluctance to get out of bed, even after having gone to bed by 7:30 the night before. At breakfast, Sage was taking longer than usual to get started eating his vanilla yogurt with granola. He mentioned he felt hot but I imagined he was trying to get out of going to school - particularly since he voiced his dislike of school yesterday morning. I finally let him go get ready seeing how we had 15 minutes until the bus was to arrive.

Then the whimpering in the distance. At the top of the stairs. That's when I knew he was serious about not feeling well. Sage sat on the top stair not saying a word. "Do you have to puke?" I asked him. I told him to run to the bathroom. He didn't make it in time but luckily I was there with my hand. I realise how unpleasant that might sound to some, but when you're a parent you get used to these things.

A sick child is a fact of life at this time of year as children attend school and are exposed to other children who are ill. I decided to keep Sage home and spend time with him. My plans for the day could wait until tomorrow. I laid down next to him and we slept for a short while. As I was drifting off to a deeper sleep, I heard "Mama, look!". Sage was looking out the window at the rainbow - a double rainbow, as it turned out. The last time I'd seen a double rainbow was long ago in Ireland. There one can witness many rainbows.

"I want to touch the rainbow!", exclaims Sage. "I want to be in the rainbow", he continues. We walked outside on the porch to take a closer look. Children show us the beauty in the little things in life. Had it not been for him staying home today, I would not have noticed the rainbows as I most likely would not have been looking out the window.

double rainbow texas

When we walked back inside, Sage decided to play by the fireplace. Jenga was his choice today. In a matter of a few minutes he ushered me to come look again. I stood there in amazement and admired the structure he built. 

jenga house bw

As I raced upstairs to get my camera, he also grabbed his camera and started to photograph his creation. He proceeded to take more photographs of his stuffed animals and anything around the room. Then he sat on the blanket on the floor and reviewed the photographs he had just taken.

sage camera review bw

In the meantime, I mustered the energy to make scones for my breakfast. I decided on using the wild dried blueberries I normally put in the multigrain cereal. Turkish coffee and scones made for a tasty breakfast.

wild blueberry scones

Sage and I retreated upstairs where I comforted him as he went back to sleep. Afterwards, I read him two stories. The first was "The Travels of Babar" which I had a difficult time reading without laughing - which also made Sage laugh. I've never heard of the Babar series until my children were given a Babar book a few years back. The stories and style of writing I found a bit bizarre for my taste. The second book was "The Dark" and is about a little boy who is afraid of the dark but starts to converse with the dark as a way to overcome his fears. This book is one of four books I brought back with me from my travel to upstate New York last year. The story was more to my liking than the Babar book. Regardless, Sage enjoyed our time together and was all that mattered.

sage and babar book bw

Upon returning from Cinnamon's swimming lesson, Sage climbed back in bed and slept through dinner. Cinnamon readied herself for bed and chose a book for tonight's bedtime story. Ironically, she also chose a Babar book - "Babar and The Ghost".

sage asleep bw

Tired from swimming, Cinnamon fell asleep within 10 minutes. I returned to my room to write and heard Sage shifting around on his bed. He was thirsty and was searching for his bottle of water.

"I love you", I told Sage as he settled on his bed.

"I love you too", he replied.

"I love you more", I responded.

"I love you more than the Earth and the higher world", my Sage proclaimed as he drifted off to sleep.

WHAT LIES WITHIN

rain drop red leaves

This morning I tried to convince the children to sleep in since it was Sunday and there was no school. My attempt was futile as they were wide awake. I don't blame them as they had five hours more sleep than I had.

“But I like school”, declared Cinnamon. I asked her why. “I don’t know”, she replied.

“I don’t”, proclaimed Sage about his dislike of school. I then asked him why and he replied, “I don’t like learning.”

I laughed but he was clearly not pleased with my response. "It's not funny," he sulked. I then asked him what he liked. I already knew the answer but wanted to give him a chance to voice his response. “Building”.

My boy also seems to take quite an interest in photographing the world around him. As we went on our afternoon photo hike, Sage asked me what I was photographing and then proceeded to replicate the shot with the indestructible kid camera purchased years ago. I'm still a bit hesitant to put a real point-and-shoot camera in their hands - a fear that was confirmed when Sage tripped later during our walk whilst holding the camera, two sticks, and a rock.

sage photographing

There were many objects of interest to photograph - as long as one took the time to appreciate the little things. The native grasses lining the walkway of a new townhome recently completed in the neighborhood were beautiful against the late afternoon light.

native grass

The wispy grass jutting out of a nearby rock swayed with the wind as we attempted to capture its loneliness.

grass in rock

The abandoned glass Coca-Cola bottle placed on top of a rock fence - most likely by one of the construction workers - stood out against the natural surroundings.

glass coke bottle

When you learn to appreciate the little things, your heart will lead your eyes to see much more than you believe is in front of you.

kids by cactus

Even a seemingly boring rock wall can yield interesting results - especially when stripping colour to reveal intricacies. I told Cinnamon the wall would look interesting in black and white. She asked how one goes about changing the colour of things. I told her "on the computer".

rock wall

The absence of colour in photographs has always been a fascination of mine. Pure emotions are more readily seen when the distraction of colour is removed.

kids by container bw

When you have a colour as bold as red, your eyes are immediately drawn to the red object instead of the emotions that should be at the forefront. Colour, as many things in life, tends to divert attention from what truly lies within.

kids by container colour

LUCIDITY

moroccan lantern

A change of scenery, a shift of pace. It can be as simple as stepping out your front door and taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Or it can be a morning-long event as you sit in your car and drive the 30 minutes to your intended destination. Sometimes a small change is all we need in order to gain clarity of a situation and of the next step to take. To have the moment of lucidity we oftentimes desire.

Such was the case this morning as I set out to go grocery shopping but ended up instead at The Hideout coffeehouse. Once again, I failed to realise the Austin City Limits music festival was underway. This meant crowds, which I mainly managed to avoid as I arrived downtown shortly past 10:30. After driving around for 20 minutes searching for nearby parking, I decided it simply was not worth any further driving as I was already in front of the Capitol building at the intersection of 11th Street and Congress Avenue.

As the light turned green, I looked over to my left and noticed a car pulling out of a metered parking spot. Oblivious to the double yellow lines, I made a sharp turn into the desired spot before anyone else could claim it. I didn't mind walking the four and a half blocks to my destination, but had hoped I would get there in time for some breakfast tacos. Unfortunately, I was too late as the only options included eggs - something I do not particularly like in tacos. Potatoes with beans and cheese would have been my preferred choice.

Scanning the counter for something else to calm my bout of hunger, soon to approach the level of being hangry, I laid my eyes upon a slice of banana bread packaged and sitting in a basket. I asked the new lady working there if any options existed which were not "gluten free". I wanted real flour. I desired gluten. Ever since the propagation of gluten-free products, I have made it a point to ask for ingredient clarification - or check the ingredients myself if a label is provided.

Coffee was next to be ordered and I dared to ask for a "flat white", even though it was nowhere on the menu board. The lady wasn't certain but would check if someone was able to make one. This was the first flat white I'd had in the States, my introduction to this coffee specialty from Australia and New Zealand having been in Edinburgh last November.

Wikipedia has a more accurate description of a flat white, but it is basically espresso with microfoam with a higher proportion of espresso to the steamed milk. Cappuccinos use macrofoam which is drier than the foam used for flat whites. I'm hoping more coffeehouses in the States start offering this delectable drink.

Of the two vacant tables in the front of the coffeehouse, I chose the one with the pair of old wing chairs on the stage with a view out the large front windows and decided I needed to do this more often and for much longer than the hour I put on the parking meter. So, I sat and watched people passing by. I drank my flat white, enjoyed my gluten-filled banana bread, and occasionally tuned in to nearby conversations. It was a small step towards lucidity, but a step nonetheless.

OBSCURITY

tealights blurred

Doubt. Uncertainty. Ambiguity. There will be times in our lives when we must ponder what lies ahead of us as a result of choosing one path over another in the face of life-changing decisions. When we must acknowledge the dark ominous clouds which follow us throughout the day casting shadows of disbelief and apprehension, influencing those decisions. When the choices often are obscured by obstacles out of our control such as emotions as opposed to rationale.

The reluctance to move forward is furthered by fear of the unknown. Faced with an impending fork in the road, we are prompted to make a choice. Seconds of hesitation tick away as the moment approaches. The decision to take one path precludes the option to select the other and thus obstructs the revelation of the outcome of the path not taken.  Knowledge of the result of choosing one path over the other would be ideal but quixotic. Nonetheless, a decision needs to be made.

Those in our lives might observe our hesitation as we ponder the consequences, offering words of seeming encouragement which further serve to confuse our already confused minds. They might hasten our decisions with their words of advice, but decisions made in haste are seldom ones most ideal and are likely to end in regret. Regrets which may result in a lifetime of missed opportunities. Thoughtful consideration might not be an option as continued prompting puts pressure on us to simply make a decision - any decision.

Some might argue decisions made in haste are better than no decision at all. Whereas a decision to make no decision might be ideal for some, it is not for others as complexities of the mind come to play when faced with uncertainty. Complexities which are not easily resolved and grow more intricate as multiple options present themselves. Albeit one answer might seem simple and desirable, not all things desirable are practical no matter how we wish them to be. If the veil of obscurity would somehow be lifted to reveal the impact of the decision, mysteries would cease and would bring along an alleviated anxiousness. 

Time is our enemy. With every passing second, uncertainties are added to the complexities already encompassing our thoughts. The choice of one path over the other sets into motion a future which might yield favourable outcomes or unfavourable ones. Whichever choice we make must be embraced as we move forward.

From the lyrics of Pascal Pinon's song, "Somewhere":

"Cherish and embrace it
appreciate the time we got
I ask you to forget me not
someday somewhere."
 

MISALIGNMENT

espresso cups

The desire to fit in with those around us is innate. We want to belong, to be accepted, to be a part of a group with commonalities. To feel we are a part of something important, something vast in significance. This desire can be so great we might even give up on our authentic selves in order to fit in. While this may be true for some people, others are not so apt to conform. The desire to be an individual with unique thoughts and goals is a great enough incentive to sacrifice conformity for the sake of individuality.

Acquiescence for most people is a way of life. You give in to the demands of your job, to the extra hours your boss thrusts your way. To the whims of your friends or co-workers who want to go out for a drink after work when all you want to do is go home and relax after a trying day. We do it so we are not the one who is insubordinate. We do it for we do not wish to be the individual others look upon as a dissident, one who stands apart from the crowd. The person who, at times, is forsaken when speaking his mind.

There are not many individuals who choose singularity over compliance. We do not wish to look different, to stand out, to be judged. We do not wish to be the girl who climbs up onto the tall speakers in front of the crowded dance floor at The Mayan night club and starts dancing as if nobody is watching. So we don the grey suits, the conservative business hair, the requisite garb prescribed by society. We would rather conform than misalign to what we believe society wants us to do, to be. Fear, for some, is the motivator. For others, it might simply be due to being content with the status quo, reasoning there is no need to fix what is not broken.

It is interesting to note how the human resources departments of some companies have adapted the word "align" when responding to job applications of potential employees. Instead of stating the applicant is not qualified, the letters being sent out state the misalignment of the applicant's qualifications to the job description. Such was the case today when I received two separate emails. One company used the term "align" - in the sense my skills did not align with the position. The other company stated something regarding a lack of an "appropriate opportunity" for discussing the position as advertised.

It takes great strength and courage to stand up for your beliefs and to dare to be different. To stand up to the face of conformity. Albeit some might see this as deviating from the norms of society, others will silently applaud you and your willingness to deviate from the crowd. With age, you start to worry less what others think of you. It is a freedom unlike any other and opens your mind to a world of possibilities, but only if you can look at this misalignment as a way to free yourself from the chains of conformity.

LAMENT

green leaves bw

At one point or another in our lives, we pause to reflect upon the past. A past we might remember fondly as we bask in the seeming simplicity of a time long gone. A time as we once were - young and naïve. Or a past we might lament for the simple fact we can no longer return to make right that which we believe we've done wrong. A past - with all its adversities, disappointments, and challenges - which has defined who we've become. An individual unlike any other. Different. Unique. Odd to some. 

A trigger might spark the initial contemplation which might turn into a cascade of introspectiveness. A song, a word, a thought. A trigger such as the newt which dropped from the ceiling onto my head today as I was leaving the house. The newt I saw earlier in the week scurrying through my front door. The one I tried, to no avail, to locate and usher out the door. Until later in the evening when it met its untimely, unfortunate, and unintentional demise.

The word which came to mind as a result of the newt was "premonition" as I had a strange feeling the newt would return, albeit not in such a frightening manner. This sequence of thoughts and words led me to a morning in high school where I had the premonition something bad would happen. It did. In gymnastics class when my hand slipped and I missed the balance beam causing me to come crashing to the floor onto my outstretched arm. As I was lying on the ground, I burst into a loud laughter and started to veer toward a vision of whiteness. "Don't let her drift away", I heard the paramedics saying as they arrived.

The other trigger was the word "lament" and the melody that accompanied it. As the melody played out in my mind, I started to recall a song of the same name I had long forgotten. Entering "lament song 80s" in the search engine, I noticed videos came up on YouTube naming Ultravox as the band. Then I started to remember the song and a host of others from a time long ago when youth was on my side. A time when I would get lost in the words in my mind needing to be scribbled down somewhere on some notebook paper in the form of poems.

Perhaps it's the result of the passing years and reflecting upon a time long ago. "If only..." we reason. But there is no reason. Nothing but the consequences of choosing to go down one path over another. The fate which transpires as a result of the chances we take. Of choices made in a split second that would forever change the course of history. Ours and the history of others. For a change in one person affects the lives of those around you.

FOCUS

blind circles

In this age of technology and the need to be tethered to our devices, there is great potential for one to lose focus. Focus on the present moment, attention to the people physically in front of us, the concentration of thoughts on one specific task. Technology has shifted our view of what is important.

The "ding" of an email, a text, a voicemail. It awakens the urgency in us to run and see who wrote or called. I remember long ago, before the age of the portable phone, walking into my apartment and seeing the flashing red light of the answering machine letting me know someone called. I recall the freedom of leaving my home and driving to the store without the chains of technology as we have now. Freedom to converse with the person in front of us in line at the store instead of having our eyes fixated on a screen.

The convenience of having it all at your fingertips is anything but convenient. We have become shackled to the inanimate objects that now rule our lives. This growing trend of the loss of focus shows no signs of subsiding anytime soon.

When you walk into a restaurant, rarely do you find the people at the table talking with each other. Rather, all heads are bowed. Not in prayer, but in reverence to the screen. The glowing screen which has taken over even our bedrooms as we tuck our devices under our pillows ready to be checked upon awakening.

There is nothing more offensive than someone choosing to check email, answer a phone call, or respond to a text whilst in company of others. If we have set aside a special time to meet, it is courteous to focus on the time together. The only exception being an emergency phone call. We are not doing any good letting our children and loved ones know they are less important to us than a device. It is time we untether and adjust our focus to what is truly important. 

ASTONISHMENT

puzzle sage elephants

"Mama! Mama!", I heard Sage calling me. He ran up the stairs and ushered me to come see. The excitement in his voice led me to believe it had something to do with his puzzle.

I saw Elli and Babar (his two larger elephants) covering the white foam core on which Sage was building his puzzle. He was hiding his surprise. As I suspected, he had completed his puzzle before breakfast. He was so excited and proud of himself, as was I. The look of astonishment on his face would make even the grumpiest person smile. I knew he would have no trouble putting together the 280 pieces. He's done it before, yet it seems to amaze him every time. Shortly thereafter, he started to take portions of the puzzle apart so that he might put it back together again.

280 puzzle colour

Cinnamon was feeling a bit run down and not her usual self. She refused an extra slice of cinnamon French toast - something she had requested all week as Sunday's special breakfast. As the day wore on, she started to feel better. This time of year I expect the children will come down with a few illnesses throughout the season but I hope nothing too serious.

cinnamon ill

Both children were happy to see Saffron over Skype after breakfast. No order of conversation was followed as all three spoke at the same time. Because of the time difference between Austin and Berlin, they are able to see each other solely on the weekends. The dynamic of the three has shifted much since summer with the older sister being absent from every day life. I cannot imagine a Christmas without all three together, yet that is the way it will be this year. 

The little things in life keep us going. The accomplishments, no matter how small they seem, which continue to astound.