Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sabbatical Revisited

It's been 3 years since our Ecuadorian sabbatical  and we just bought tickets to revisit our old  haunts over the upcoming spring break 2013. We've had fun looking through our old blog as we prepare for new adventures. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Now that Miguel is in school, Michael is back to work, I have resumed my freelance work and career gyrations, and the 2009 taxes are finally done (thank you extension), it is probably fair to declare our sabbatical over. The dust, or ash, is settling.

In our fast packing prompted by Tungurahua's outburst, we seem to have misplaced the small pile of scrap paper we used for capturing memories that had not made it into the blog. I realized they were gone while we were doing our taxes. I would have easily traded the banker's box worth of mail we accumulated while we were gone for those wisps of memories (including two place-mats from our mother's day date at Luna Runtun). As disorganized as I can be, I am ruthless about holding on to paper scraps, which is why I still have an assortment of incriminating notes passed between me and Lisa Rosman back in 8th grade.

I can picture where I last saw our notes. They were tucked into a file folder I had brought to Ecuador for one of the projects I was working on.  Having completed the project, I think I pitched the folder as we frantically tossed everything into bags while our windows shook from the volcano's blasts. Serves us right for getting spooked.

At first I was devastated. These were the notes I planned to work from as I sifted through the 4000 plus pictures and rounded out our report--if only for ourselves--of this amazing journey. I do not lose notes. I might not ever go back to look at them, but I know they are there--my brain's external hard drive since my memory can not be trusted.

But maybe Miguel's can. He still talks about Joanna's chickens, Adita's glue gun, Wouter's car and Tungurahua's ash. He wants to know when we can visit Jim, Marshia and Simon again.  Perhaps all that  matters is that he was happy there and that we weathered more time together as a family.

Yeah, yeah. I want my damn details back! Compounding matters is that we hardly wrote at all while on the road this summer.   It's all receding into a blur of different skies. Because I always remember the sky, even as the words, thoughts and events of the day slough off.

Maybe that is why I keep traveling.  Unable to remember adventures of the past, I keep itching along for more.

I do not remember many details about the cross country hitchhiking trip with Billy when I was 20 but I do see the indigo sky trimmed with lingering sunset and rising stars dwarfing the big rigs pulled to the side of the road. (Why were we stopped? What state were we in???)  I remember benign warm clouds tucking us in on an uncertain evening as we crashed--I think--in an RV campground with canned goods and hope for someone else's fire and can opener. And the stretched as tight as a powder blue hospital sheet sky above the embankment that led to my first and only freight train hopping experience.*

I never got around to writing about that trip--one of my great regrets. But then there are the trips I did write about, the epic bike rides with friends over the years, but those notes are buried in journals I never read so maybe it does not matter if I write or not, or if those scraps turn up.

Just means we need to start planning some more adventures.

*Per Jim's comment, I should credit T.S. Eliot for the root of this image.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table

Thursday, September 2, 2010

high tide

In keeping with the coastal theme of my last post, I declare today's133 to be my high water mark. May it take less than 8 months to lose the15 pounds of junk in the trunk I accumulated during our travels.

According to various charts and measures, and the unyielding waistlines of all of my clothes, I have officially popped out of the "healthy weight" range for my 61 inches.

Was it all those chocolate bolitas from the panderia around the corner?
Living in a small town--ie, short commutes--for 5 months?
Hitting 38 years?
Being on an anti-depressant?
Eating out many times a week?
Slouching in a rental car for three weeks around the Pacific Northwest?
Poaching food from Miguel's plate? (he seems to have left his pudge behind)

Makes me wonder how much more I would have gained if I hadn't been running, hiking, swimming, biking and doing yoga. Then again, exercise is what has always allowed to me ignore calories; maybe I got a little reckless. A three mile hike is no match for three of those bolitas!

Well. We are home now. There will be longer commutes (mixed blessing), more home cooking and less partying. This is a challenge, not a crisis. I love challenges. Oh, but how I hate watching what I eat.

Got the alarm set for a morning run. Come on exercise--do your thing!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to Work

Today was the last official day of my 8 month sabbatical and a fine day it was.

It started with an early run through Humboldt Park, followed by a trip to another nearby park to play with Miguel.

For lunch, Miguel and I headed to Revolution Brewing. I couldn't resist ordering a Working Man's Mild to commemorate my return to the workingclass. While sipping the session ale, I pondered the old Oscar Wilde quote: "Work is the scourge of the drinking classes."

Josh happened upon us and joined us for lunch. We discussed plans for Labor Day weekend and the scent of work seemed to permeate the air.

After a relaxing afternoon, Charly (Gin's mom) watched Miguel while Gin and I pedaled off to a yoga class. We returned home to a lovely meal and a delicious chocolate cake made by Charly. Gin, Miguel and I blew out eight candles, one for each month of our sabbatical.

In some ways, the exotic part of the sabbatical seemed to end 10 weeks ago when we returned to the US (see my final post from South America and Gin's reflections on returning to Chicago for some observations).

Since returning to the States, we've spent time with friends and family-- bike rides, renting cottages, dancing naked in the streets, etc. It's been great to reconnect with our loved ones while moving through life at a less hurried pace. I think I'll return to my job refreshed for the important work that lies ahead.

As the Rev. Sam Barker said at our wedding, the greatest gift we can give one another is the gift of our time. Eight months is a fine gift and I hope there's much more to give.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I am in love with low tide,
the slipping back ocean cover
airing out the swingers of the coastal edge.

The plump, tangled starfish seem especially exposed.
I know I should not touch, but my finger reaches
and strokes, looking for soft like a slick thigh,
and is surprised by the cool, rigid shell.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lots of Purple Rain

Last Friday's torrential rains kept us out late. We danced in the street while water gushed into our basement, climbing up the wheels of dozens of snoozing bicycles.

There is a certain smell when the first drops hit the hot streets and brittle window screens-- a dusty, blooming, friendly city smell that has always pulled me outside while others scurry under the awnings. I remember long walks during summer storms from my growing up years in Hyde Park, watching tired lawns perk up, and scuffed sidewalks gleam with temporary polish, enjoying the quiet and solitude, a transformation more subtle than a snowstorm, but no less exhilarating. 

We were celebrating a friend's 40th birthday. At 11pm we started sending our sitter apologetic, hopeful texts. Do you mind if we wait until it clears a bit? No problem. She had biked too, and was not eager to suit up in the storm.  We asked again at midnight and one more time until we agreed that we would  just return when the rain stopped and/or we were done kicking up our heels.

Michael and I had brought dueling 80's dance mixes. We have a funny, sparring relationship about music. He probably has better, more sophisticated taste (for example, he actually listens to lyrics, whereas I am a sucker for anything that gets my bottom shaking), and is a master of putting together mixes. But right before we left for the party, I realized he had no Eurythmics and only one Prince song on his mix. I also thought some of his choices were too slow for a dance party. He protested, conjuring up memories of soundtracks from his housing co-op days in Michigan. I snarked back something about him being older and not a "girl."  The gauntlet was down and I was challenged to come up with my own playlist in 30 minutes.

I am glad we brought the extra music. Michael's songs got everyone moving, even those I had scoffed at. But around midnight, his list was winding down, the rain was turning up, and no one seemed in a mood to stop dancing. Enter my combo of Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, The Pretenders, Annie Lennox, B-52's, Peter Gabriel and Prince.

Long story short--there was much dancing. The warm, relentless rain was seductive. We opened the front door to their graystone and let the music hit the street with the water. We followed with bare feet and then bare everything. Laughing and bathing in the purple rain, letting it fall on our heads like a memory. . . .

We were 30 and 40 somethings, not so much grasping at old memories but feeling strong and joyful about where we are now. These are friends I have known for over ten years. . . not growing up friends, instead growing older together friends. We all carry our own associations with these songs of our youth, but share more recent adventures:  crazy bike trips, raising kids, tilting at windmills and breaking up concrete.

I can picture them chasing the rain--maybe even the same storms--as kids in Detroit, Boston, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Evanston, Wheaton, Rogers Park.

The evening finally wound down at 3am, as the trees dripped echoes of the storm.  I biked home in heels and a borrowed T-shirt. When Michael and I opened the door to our basement and saw how the rain had worked a different kind of magic on our block, we laughed and groaned, snapped back into "responsible adulthood."

We spent the next few days cleaning out the basement (sewage water-ewww!), but I am still grateful for the storm and more memories.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Lifting off from Quito for the last time, I looked hard at the shrinking pastel-concrete apartment buildings climbing up the mountains below us, like watching someone running after your train until they are a tiny speck waving an even tinier handkerchief.

I didn't cry. I had done that when leaving Banos. The last weeks of our time in South America were more like a vacation, 3 days here, 4 days there, enough time in airports and cabs to keep us from getting too attached or nostalgic. Still, leaving Quito, our pass-through city for many of our trips, did have some heft.

"I know this airport. . . We've been here before. . . " Miguel had murmured, barely awake in just underwear and my sweatshirt.

I did some rambling writing on the plane, I guess my way of turning away from the mountains and focusing on the next part of this journey (our "sabbatical" does not end until September). Somehow a month has passed and I haven't gotten to posting it. Coming home has been intense--busy and wonderful, including a trip to visit my parents and a week at the Indiana lake shore. Now we are home for over two weeks before heading out west. I feel like the plane is finally touching down for a spell.

This is what I wrote between Quito and Houston, June 17.

We're going home, trading concrete for bricks, contour for a still ball on Chicago's flat streets. Saying goodbye to being able to play in the streets.

We joke that we did this trip, in part, to cheat a winter. We wanted time outside (afuera) and time together. Sure, Michael and I both had some projects to work on, but mostly we saw this as a chance to really focus on our family. In some ways, I see this trip as a tribute to Michael's Mom and Dad, who, on humble salaries, always managed to get 5 kids out on epic camper van adventures.

Maybe we could have done "more": learned more Spanish, gotten to know more people more deeply, gone further with our projects. . . but I don't think that's what we wanted.  As I let my mind relax and float over images from these last five months, I don't see the scenery from all the runs I described  in such detail on the blog, or Michael's cerveceria, or my computer (even though I spent plenty of time pecking away at this machine.)

What I see over and over again is Miguel's back, running ahead of us, down the long, warm, wide sidewalks in Banos. I am not yelling after him to slow down or stop at the corner. He knows by now, and also, there is not so much traffic anyway. It feels safe, maybe in the way a small town might feel safe.

In the last 5 months, hardly a day has gone by when Miguel has not spent a lot of time outside, interacting with people and places. In the pic here, he is running along his "track" in Cartagena, a plaza that leads to the gate of the walled old city. We let him do laps, which involved a few seconds of barely being able to see him. How strange to feel safer there than in Chicago, or maybe it's just that this trip overlapped with him easing into a more responsible age.

Right now, he is conked out on my lap in the plane--#3 of 4 on our 2 day, somewhat backtracking journey home. We had to get up at 3:30am to be at the airport for our 6am flight, which felt excessive. But there were lots of lines, and we all got patted down tons of times. My checked bag was picked for extra screening, and I was taken down to the tarmac for a visit with security. Maybe the bag of rocks from Ecuador's coast looked suspicious. Michael had certainly thought it was silly for me to haul them.

And I am thinking my Spanish is at least somewhat serviceable (thanks to Mayra's Spanish School.) I managed to save us $120 bucks in exit fees. Pagamos dos semenas proximas cuando visitamos Colombia. Necesitamos regresar a Quito antes salimos por estados unidos. Estamos aqui in Quito por solo un noche, menos un noche!

The fee collector eventually agreed that we should not pay twice in two weeks to leave the country and asked for proof of our Colombia trip. I thought our passports should be sufficient, but she needed evidence from yesterday's airline. I somehow was able to communicate our predicament to the Avianca rep, get the docs I needed and all was well.

Things I will miss from our time in South America:  (I hate to make generalizations, so preface all the following with "Of our limited data sample")
  • I will miss the easy formality and the care people take putting them selves together. Not too fussy, but so many of the men and women who crossed our paths just looked good. Lots of sharp hair cuts and very few dunlops. US tourists seem so slouchy and sleepy, especially in the airport. (Note my child walking around in undies and a sweat shirt.) No wonder people were always trying to shine my shoes.
  •  I will miss not feeling short
  • Being immersed into another language
  • Being outside in so many senses of the word
  • 4 1/2 hours of "1/2 day" school. 
  • Miguel's teachers, Adita, Joanna.
  • Being able to hop on a bus and get to so may different places
  • Having only 4 bags of possessions
  • Being able to pop in on Jim, Marshia, Mayra, Wouter and our other friends
  • The time to think
  • Runs on dirt
  • Vistas, peaks, thin air
  • being out of the US
  • New friends we just started getting to know--I am looking at you, Daniela and Rebecca
  • Ronit and Gilad, our yoga teachers, in pic above
  • the Posada's sala, food, staff, Simon and views of the waterfall and mirrored windows of the house across the street
  • The French restaurant's shade garden and rickety play set, the front yard at Daniela's Casa Del Abuelo, zip line park, pastaza (esp the view from Rebecca's Casa Verde), bike ride up to Lligua, Sauce bridge
  • hot baths
  • mini power outages
  • chocolate bolitas from the panderia around the corner
  • seafood
  • warm water to swim in
  • so much time together

I will not miss
  • poop on the sidewalks
  • crappy butter
  • bus exhaust
  • being a tourist
  • stilted conversations
  • large roaches
  • listlessness
  • crappy beds
  • eating out so much
  • elusiveness of whole wheat flour
  • so much time together (sometimes it was a bit much for this introvert--still I wouldn't trade it for the world)
I am looking forward to
  • friends and family
  • my garden--thank goodness for perennials
  • parkways
  • wood floors and long hallways
  • baseball games
  • excellent oil and vinegar
  • bitter greens
  • my washing machine
  • running in Palmer Square
  • road bike tires
  • bagels
  • good butter and chocolate
  • working hard
 Ok, one blog post down, about 30 more to go to catch up on on the thoughts and memories swirling around my head.  Good thing I was looking forward to working hard.