Bon Viatge!

Meg and Grant go to Barcelona & beyond

Month: May 2015

How to spend a free life

I haven’t written in a while. The reason is because I haven’t been sure of what to write about. My emotions have been flying all over the place lately, and they never seem to stay put long enough for me to understand them myself, much less articulate them to other people. I started embracing something that I learned in yoga meditation – when trying to quiet the mind, acknowledge the feelings and observe them. Don’t pass judgement on them, just let them flow through you. So, instead of trying to pin down my feelings, I have just been observing them as they pass through me.

We have also been taking it easy as Grant completely recovers from his bouts with illness. We have been taking care of each other and staying in Barcelona, resting up! He is almost completely recovered now.

Moving abroad – being in a place totally separated from everything and everyone I define myself by – has stripped down layers I didn’t even know I had around the core me. I am deciding who I want to be – how I want to behave and what I want to do with my free time. There have been so many opportunities that is is hard to focus.

In the air the questions hang

Will we get to do something?

Who we gonna end up being?

How we gonna end up feeling?

What you gonna spend your free life on?

 

Characteristics to cultivate

I have certainly learned a lot about myself. There are a few character traits that I want to develop and learn more about because these are weak spots for me.

Humility – not being too proud to ask for help, not believing that I can do it all, letting go of control over everything, taking risks without worrying about failure

Patience – being able to roll with it when it all falls apart, dealing with disappointment, not hurrying so much to the next thing that I miss the now, having patience with other but starting with patience for myself

Perspective – realizing no experience, no person, nothing in this world will ever fully make me happy; how little material things matter!

Skills to cultivate

I have also narrowed in on what I want to put my time & energy towards. Here is a sketch showing my various goals & pursuits (as of now):

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At the center is travel. Ultimately, experiencing many different places, cultures, and peoples is why we decided to take time off. Next week, Grant and I are taking a sailing course which will teach us how to be crew members on a boat. Our ultimate hope is that we will able to do some sailing on our own eventually.

There are many creative pursuits that I have started to go after:

  • Screen printing (which I have started classes for)

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  • Cross stitching (pictured below is my first attempt at lemons)

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  • Jewelry making (most interested in laser cut rubber & leather and was recently inspired by this beautiful necklace Grant got me!)

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  • Electronics as applied to cross stitching & jewelry making (think LEDs, EL wire, etc.) and the intersection of all three of these art forms
  • Freelance online writing course through Stanford (thank you to everyone who has encouraged me after reading along with the blog!)

This is also a perfect time for me to prioritize health & wellness. These are the activities that are easiest for me to participate in with the language barrier. It’s easy to follow along physical instructions in a class and model after the teacher.

  • Biking, spin class, and weight lifting
  • Dance of all kinds (pole dance, modern dance. etc.)
  • Exploring nutrition mobile apps from a ux perspective (this is an area both Grant and I are passionate about)

That is how we’ve been spending our free lives lately…

Misadventures

Our bravest and best lessons are not learned through success, but through misadventure.
― Amos Bronson Alcott

To date, I’ve chronicled mostly fun adventures and discoveries, along with everything that’s going on in my head & heart. You’re really in for a treat, today, reader, because I’m going to chronicle our misadventures to date. Pour yourself a glass of wine or iced tea, and get ready to laugh at with us.

  1. Arriving at the Barcelona airport at 1 AM, wandering the airport looking for the airport hotel, finally finding an information desk and asking for directions in Spanish – promptly leading us in the wrong direction because I didn’t really understand the directions – then finally giving in and sending Grant back for directions in English because I was too embarrassed to go back
  2. Walking into a restaurant and telling the waiter we are here to cocinar (to cook) instead of the correct word cenar (to eat dinner)
  3. Going to a Mexican restaurant, ordering tamales, and getting a dish that is clearly a quesadilla….eating it, still thinking this is a quesadilla but not feeling confident to point it out, because maybe we don’t know what quesadillas in a Mexican restaurant in Spain are supposed to look like (it was a quesadilla brought to the wrong table, but this just goes to show how you learn not to assume anything in a foreign country)
  4. Getting a ridiculous look from the doctor when trying to put the thermometer in Grant’s mouth – everyone here knows it’s more accurate temperature under the arm (turns out this is up for debate)
  5. Discovering the hard way that grocery stores and most restaurants aren’t open on Sundays (errr, let’s fast?)
  6. Buying the laundry detergent with a lamb on it because it’s cute and discovering our clothes still smell baaaaaaaad after using that
  7. Going into an electrodomestico (store that sells home electronic appliances), asking for a brita filter for water, being shown a tea infuser filter, figuring they don’t sell water purifiers, then seeing one in the front window as we walk out of the store
  8. Buying sheets and towels from the expensive department store with the help of a very attentive and friendly salesperson, discovering we overpaid, returning said sheets and towels specifically avoiding the salesperson who sold them to us, then the store clerk calling the salesperson to come do the returns (awwwwwkward)
  9. Being on time to a club meetup and being the first person there (yes, Spanish time is a real thing)
  10. Making microwavable popcorn out of the bag on the stove because the promised microwave has not yet arrived (and then burning the bottom of pan…whoops)
  11. Being told by the gas company that I would need to visit a store in person because they couldn’t understand me well enough on the phone
  12. Waiting all day for the internet provider guy to show up….only to have the power in the whole apartment building go out 20 minutes before he arrived (lucky him – he got to hang out at the bar on the job waiting for our power to come back on)
  13. Freaking out that we had to get to the immigration office within 30 days of our arrival only to be told when we got there that it’s ok, make an appointment and come sometime in the next 3 months
  14. Buying a 25 cent bottle of water at the grocery store on the St Jordi holiday and getting a complementary rose (pretty sure the rose cost more than the water)
  15. Insisting to take a photo in front of this cute sign the day we arrived when it was really crowded and we had to wait for the photo opp only to realize that it is really uncrowded during the week
  16. Taking the first shower in our new apartment and having 1) the hot water not work and 2) the showerhead break and water go everywhere (…reasons why you should make your spouse test everything in the place first….)
  17. Feeling disappointed that we are never going to get our passports stamped passing through EU countries (it’s like we were never in France)
  18. Finding ourselves humming twinkle, twinkle little star in the middle of the day subconsciously from the hours of hearing it from the street performer outside
  19. Shopping in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, realizing all your childhood dreams of candy cereal have come true because everything has chocolate in it – and then realizing you don’t really want that anymore (chocolate for breakfast?)
  20. Having the hard realization that we’re not really on vacation anymore so we should probably not eat gelato every night (just maybe every other night)
  21. Being left a Burger King coupon in our airbnb room, because A. we’re American, B. Americans eat Burger King, so A. therefore B. we want to eat Burger King
  22. Strava trying to take us on the freeway on our bikes (trust me, nothing can go wrong)
  23. Grant thinking that Gaudi’s work is too gaudy
  24. Me discovering that it’s totally normal and acceptable that at the end of every dance class, we give each other massages (I knew modern would be a good fit for me) and me being the most awkward person about it (why is that person moving my bra strap without talking to me?)
  25. Not having enough hands to carry our luggage so strapping on a huge rolling suitcase to the back of my backpack as a tail
  26. Not being able to spell my own name in Spanish because I’ve forgotten how to say the alphabet in Spanish – and Grant jumping in spelling it perfectly using his recent Spanish lesson knowledge (I felt like a cave woman pounding on chest…me…meg…grunt grunt)
  27. The painful realization that not all patatas bravas are delicious
  28. Sharing a double bed with your spouse after having had a queen bed (enough said)
  29. Realizing that locals are wearing scarfs in 77ºF weather (we are going to melt in summer)
  30. Making frito pie with 3D bugles because there are no fritos (one word: soggy)

I’m sure there are a million more little moments like these. There is nothing more humbling than discovering a new place, a new culture, and a new way of doing things. It heightens every experience – either it’s super disappointing to try to engage with the new culture and fail – or you make a connection, someone understands you, and you feel like you’ve won the lottery. Sometimes all you can do is laugh about it (or cry a little bit) and realize that you are a small part of the world with a small slice of experiences. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows calls this onism.

Not a day goes by that I don’t say something completely wrong in Spanish. I’ve enjoyed David Sedaris talking about his experiences learning French in Paris as an adult. I’ll leave you with this hilarious (and all too close-to-home) quote from his “Me Talk Pretty One Day”:

On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned “Lie down,” “Shut up,” and “Who shit on this carpet?” The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. “Is thems the thoughts of cows?” I’d ask the butcher, pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window. “I want me some lamb chop with handles on ’em.”

Paris with Monsieur and Madame Mullins

We had the wonderful opportunity to visit Paris this weekend to hang out with my Uncle Kelvin and Aunt B, or should I say Monsieur and Madame Mullins? It was so fun to see them and fill my family love tank.

It was so surreal to be meeting up in Paris, and the whole day I kept thinking, is this happening? We are in Paris with Bridget and Kelvin!

Eiffel Tower

Grant was feeling much improved after this week of rest, so on Friday afternoon, we jetted off to Paris. We didn’t arrive until late in the evening, so we headed to dinner and then to see the Eiffel Tower at night. I couldn’t go to sleep on our first night in Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower!

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The Seine

The next morning we met Bridget and Kelvin at their hotel for a day of adventure! Their hotel – like many things in Paris – has a rich history. Apparently, someone stole the Mona Lisa at some point and kept it in this hotel until they were caught.

I had a short list of things I wanted to see, but for the most part, we were game for anything. It was Bridget and Kelvin’s last day in Paris. We were lucky to have such wonderful tour guides and company!

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First, we walked along the Seine. The weather wasn’t wonderful – it was drizzling lightly almost the entire time we were there, but it was still beautiful in the haze. We walked along the Pont d’Arts, which is a bridge on which couples lock padlocks, pledging their love. The bridge is so full that they have started boarding up sections so that you can’t add locks. With good reason! Here is an article explaining how part of this bridge had collapsed before from the weight of the locks: http://www.english.rfi.fr/visiting-france/20140609-paris-bridge-evacuated-love-locks-cause-railing-collapse. I still think it’s wildly romantic though.

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Next, we visited Notre Dame. It is stunning. We simply don’t have structures of this enormity and elaborate detail today. We contemplated how generations of men went to work to build this, without ever seeing the final product.

…and sometimes we just goof around too….

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The inside of Notre Dame was stunningly lit up. We didn’t realize when we entered, but there was actually a funeral service happening. I did feel strange filing through a church while the funeral service was happening, but the voices of the chorus and the lighting set a very different tone that made me reflect more deeply on the cathedral, on religion, and on God. Older places of worship always make me think about how many people worshipped here, and how long ago, and how disconnected I feel from them – yet how similar we are as human beings in this world worshipping God as best we can.

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Latin Quarter

Next, we walked through the Latin Quarter to whet our appetites before lunch reservations 🙂 The small pedestrian streets and wafting smell of crepes drew me in. Check out this pile of huge meringue pralines we saw on the street:

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Centre Pompidou

We looped by the Centre Pompidou to check out the inside-out architecture of this modern art museum. The tunnels on the outside seriously look like gerbil tunnels built for humans!

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Authentic French Lunch

One of Bridget’s co-workers had recommended a restaurant in Le Marais. This restaurant is so popular that they could only get reservations for lunch. We walked in and it was nearly empty, but within 30 minutes, the place was FULL. Most everyone in the restaurant looked local, so it was a fun experience trying to figure out what to order from the French menu. The food was delicious – rabbit, veal, and lamb.

The most delightful part of the whole experience, though, was ordering the the chocolate mousse. The waitress brings over a bowl of mousse so that you can scoop out whatever portion you want. The four of us shared a big spoonful, and let me tell you, it was so rich! It was the creamiest, richest mousse I’ve ever tasted.

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It was hard to stir after lunch – can you say chocolate mousse coma? We did manage to walk some of lunch off in the charming streets of Le Marais as we window shopped. This part of town was so cute. I have to say I was amazed at how the architecture of Paris was so distinct. Even though there were variations in buildings, all of the streets we walked down looked like Paris.

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The Catacombs

One of the things that the Mullins had not gotten to do yet was go to the catacombs – the underground tunnels where over 6 million people are buried. It is know as the “world’s largest grave.” So, of course, in the light mood we were in, we had to do that.

We stepped out of our taxi as we arrived, and there was a twisting line of umbrellas all around the corner waiting just to get tickets. It was about a 3 hour wait! Yikes.

Luckily, we were in the company of one of the friendliest, most charming Texas men. Kelvin asked if there was any way that they could fit us in as it was our last day in Paris – and they did let us in! It never hurts to ask.

I was amazed at both how far down the catacombs went, as well as how long they were. I would not want to get trapped down here without lights with 6 million ghosts. The bones were organized by year and neatly stacked. You’ve got to wonder whose job that was!

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Seeing these skulls immediately conjured up the Bible verse that we are from dust and to dust we shall return. All of these skulls represented unique, living people. Yet, when it comes down to it, all of our mortal bodies end up the same way – a pile of bones.

Wrapping up the day

Sometimes the simplest things bring the most joy. We picked a sidewalk cafe to sit in as we ordered drinks, people watched, laughed, and caught up. We remembered some great memories (like that time that my uncles, Stefan, and Kat “welcomed” Grant to the family at our wedding), and we dreamed about future memories. I am so very thankful to have a family that I am close to. You can’t choose your family, but I am so blessed to have a great family – especially Kelvin and Bridget!

It had been way too long since Grant and I had seen Kelvin and Bridget – about a year and half, and even longer since we had gotten to hang out one on one. I am so thankful that family bonds allow us to pick up where we left off. It is hard to describe the way seeing family makes me feel – but it brings me this underlying sense of peace. It grounds me. There are people in the world who have known me my whole life and still like (and love) me! There are people in the world who have the same smile and laugh as me – and my weird quirks are suddenly completely normal. There are people in the world who always have my back, no matter what.

Spending the day with Kelvin and Bridget, there are many things that I admire about them. I admire the love they have for each other – both completely independent and separately interesting people who find a way to support each other in their unique pursuits. I love listening to their stories – they can re-tell a moment to you that makes you feel as if you have just re-lived it with them! They are the type of people with whom you can discuss everything from hilarious cultural faux pas to the deepest thoughts about traveling and life.

Thank you Uncle Kelvin and Aunt Bridget for a wonderful time in Paris! We love you!

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