Q is for Quaint

I love the word, quaint. Say it out loud. It even sounds quaint.

When I travel, I am drawn to places, I consider, quaint.

In my mind, Vermont is quaint. Almost every little inch of it. Old-fashioned stores, charming bakeries, sweet B&Bs, country cottages, rushing rivers… everywhere you look, oozes quaintness. I just want to bottle it up and take it home.

After much analysis (a quick perusal of my photos) and a lot of quaint competition, I am going to declare Mexico, the capital of quaint. For those who disagree, feel free to share with your dog or cat. 🙂

You may be saying, “What does Mexico have that I don’t have?”

Mexicans know how to create a heart for their cities. Whether you call it a zocalo, a plaza, a town square, or a piazza, it is a point in the center of a town or a neighborhood that draws people to it and holds them there, captive but content.

Each zocalo is unique in Mexico.

One of my favourites is in Oaxaca. Each day as the sun dips low, people venture out to the zocalo. A park filled with benches for people to relax, to talk and simply to watch each other. Vendors sell toys for kids, men shine shoes, women sell handicrafts and always there is some fun food to eat. Families stroll, kids play and tourists, like me, take pictures and relish in the homey atmosphere of this common place where everybody and their dog loves to hang out.

What I find most refreshing is that the busiest time is in the evening. Having grown up in a city where the downtown park was empty during the day and off limits during the night due to “inappropriate activity”, it is reassuring to know there are still safe places in the world to hang out once the clock passes 6 PM.

So having concluded that Mexican towns and their zocalos win the quaint award, the strangest thing happened.

My husband was in Mexico as I was writing this post. He didn’t not know what I was writing about, yet at the same time, he sends me a picture of a cafe he thought was quaint. A word he rarely uses. This is his rendition of quaint.

The quaint cafe in Mexico  where my husband was while I was writing my quaint post in Canada.

The quaint cafe in Mexico where my husband was while I was writing my quaint post in Canada.

Although we seem to agree that Mexico is very quaint, I think we agree to disagree on his photo.

Yes, honey, the photo of the fire extinguisher in Mexico is very quaint.

You may know now why I or the girls take our travel photos.

Thanks for stopping by as The Family C travels from A to Z.

Where have you travelled that is quaint? 

P is for Playful

Isn’t the best thing in the world watching kids play? From the sidelines of course 🙂 While you have a tea, a bagel, glance at your magazine, and know all is right with the world.

With four girls of varying ages, we have had our share of play in our house.

From Dress-up

To Dolphins

old 2674

To Baking

old 285

And although dress-up, dolphins and baking have all been fun, one playful moment stands out from the rest.

And this is how it played out.

The girls have always loved making things out of nothing and this one time, Miss Jade took it to the next level.

She asked for huge boxes from Santa. Just boxes. And in fact she wanted more than one!

Now as most parents know, Christmas is a challenging time of year (usually financially) but this year our challenges were maxed out.

Santa had to find huge boxes from an appliance store and wait until Miss Jade went to bed to put them together. However Miss Jade had an other idea. Suspicious of Santa, she decided she would wait up for the boxes to magically come down our woodstove chimney. What are 2 terribly tired parents to do? Well you coax, you plead and then you bore your child until she falls asleep, finally. However, Miss Jade being who she is, insisted on sleeping on the couch downstairs by the tree, right beside our garage where said boxes needed to be recreated.

Quietly, and oh so painfully slowly, Chris brought out the tape gun and went into Santa action making the boxes in the garage. 3 of them! As they would barely fit through our front door, one was forced inside, and two others were left to shiver on our snowed in porches.

When Miss Jade woke up and found the boxes, she was E for excited and O for overwhelmed. Santa was really real.

And those boxes? They were played with endlessly. Forts, science experiments, kitchens…old 3383Those boxes played many roles but most importantly, they kept Santa alive for one more year.

What was/is your child’s favourite toy that cost little to nothing? Or one that you remember from your childhood?

Thanks for dropping in today! We, at the Family C, really appreciate you following us from A to Z. 

O is for Overwhelmed

I used to be very organized. Especially when it came to travelling. I had a guidebook, some medical advice, travellers cheques and off I went.

No fancy travel clothes, no special lock contraptions, no researched backpack, and definitely no GPS. Just me, my clothing from where ever and a couple of items from a military store.

Then it all changed on me.

Specialty travel stores, clothing designed for backpacking, travel blogs, TripAdvisor, cell phones, and even selfie sticks.

I now “know” what I should take, how to take it, how long to go for, where to avoid, what to eat, where not to eat, what debit cards to bring, which credit cards not to bring, where to stay, where not to stay, and even what the bathrooms will look like. Even for countries like Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan!

The more I read, the less prepared I feel. The less prepared I feel, the more overwhelmed I become.

Two words… information overload.

Which leads to anticipatory travel anxiety. What if I take the wrong thing? What if the lock I buy is not as good as theee one that Tina The Terrific Travel Blogger recommends. (And for those of you not in the “know” the latest must have is anything from Pacsafe).

What I do know for sure

  • Cairo has a great place for gelato.
  • There are some decent Indian restaurants in Cairo (a must).
  • There are many scams with the camels at the pyramids.
  • The traffic is crazy and I am learning how to cross the street (thanks to YouTube).
  • All food can be delivered. In fact, anything you want can be delivered.
  • Become good friends with the doorman. Every building has one and he is the “key” to getting by successfully.
  • I won’t be able to read my own bills as even the numbers will be in Arabic. (note to self: study now!)

However

Back to the basics. To get better organized and to become less overwhelmed, we have begun to get our priorities in order.

The Number 1 Priority is Chocolate Chip Cookies

We have been sampling recipes that don’t require any fancy schmancy kitchen tools. And we have succeeded.

So now that we have a chocolate chip recipe to take with us, we just need to find the magical travel store that has a sign that says, Are you going to Egypt? You need all this stuff. Buy, pack and take! 

In the meantime, my prep area still looks like this!

Yes, the photo on the right is my advanced method of learning Arabic! Yes, that too needs to be better organized.

Moving from Canada to Cairo with the Family C from A to Z

Have you ever felt overwhelmed when preparing to move? 

N is for Nettable

Adjective land in alphabet land is getting to be a bit of a stretttttttch.

Nettable means capable of being netted.

Something I highly advise when travelling in insect filled countries (and yes, Canada is included) with creepy crawlers, flying cockroaches, and lurking biting things, just waiting for their chance.

I am a magnet for all things that sting, bite and generally freak travellers out (at least this family of travellers).

I have received a few insect awards along the way.

I am the proud recipient to be one of the very first UN workers in Cambodia (1993 election) to be diagnosed with malaria. And to surpass this award, the Australians diagnosed with me dengue fever at the same time. Imagine…mosquitoes love me 24/7, day and night. The upside – you lose a lot of weight and the downside – you lose a lot of hair!

Travelling in Namibia, I was lucky enough to find a friend in my bed who decided to bite me before we even met. After nabbing him, incarcerating him, he was hand delivered to the nearest doctor. No, I didn’t die but the pain and fear can lead you from A. I am happy and healthy to B. What just happened? to C. What is that? Is it poisonous? D. To a complete melt down – fairly quickly.

The evil thing that bit me in Namibia.

The evil thing that bit me in Namibia.

So I am now nettable, capable and most willing of being netted from Mozambique to Guatemala to Canada to Peru.

I will never forget the night of the flying cockroach invasion in Mozambique, a perfect setting for a horror movie. Read here for gory details. My mosquito net was the only thing keeping me from sprinting from that house of terror.

Again in Guatemala Jade and I huddled under our net amongst spiders the size of my hands and red ants that just wouldn’t let go. Neither of us slept much, stuck together from humidity and fear, laughing at our pathetic selves. Jade became an expert in the net, knowing how to undo it in mere seconds to get in and out. She threatened to boot me out if I messed with her system. A teen of her word, I followed the net rules and together, we remained. for better or for worse, until daylight.

Usually in Canada, I don’t think to pull out my net. However, recently if I could have paid someone to net my entire house from the hostile take over by disgusting rodents, some call mice, I would have gladly.

And sadly, they haven’t invented a fashionable net one can wear. Recently attacked by sand flies in Peru, I wonder why I love this thing called travel?!

colombia and peru 247

Sand flies don’t make your legs and feet look great or feel great!

Be safe and use a net! Important words from Family C who enjoys travelling from A to Z. 

What is your security blanket when you travel? 

M is for Meatless

The nurse looks at me, questioning.

Be careful of the water, you know. I suppose you will be doing most of the cooking at home. Right?

Well, yes. Except when it comes to meat.

Why?

I don’ t even cook meat at our house here in Canada. I definitely won’t want to be cooking it in Egypt.

Are you a vegetarian? (eyeing me suspiciously now as she also glances at Jade)

Yes, but Jade isn’t. 

Then what happens here in Canada?

Well, Chris cooks it, of course 🙂 

I wasn’t always vegetarian; having grown up on hamburger helper and then tuna helper, when it was invented. How could one be meatless living in the cold prairies; the land of the casserole?

But then one night, this happened. The perfect eating formula for becoming vegetarian.

eating in the dark + ravenous hunger + steak + not cooked = soon to be very sick and scared of meat

This led to a multiple day stay at a MASH field hospital; a finely run establishment set up by the Italian medical soldiers  in Beira, Mozambique. Finely run if you understand Italian and you are male.

Me, being neither, had other opinions.

Only a mere year later (after being wrongly diagnosed with a serious disease and having fought off the Italians who had wanted to remove my appendix) I learned that my steak was the guilty culprit. Free to go, free to travel now, I celebrated with hitting the road again and this time avoiding…

So when it comes to Miss Nurse’s concerns about Jade’s meat eating in Egypt, I did some research only to discover that almost everything can be delivered in Egypt.

So cooked meat for Jade will be on speed dial, I guess. Whew! Survived that motherly guilt once more.

Happy eating, whatever you eat, from Cheryl and The Family C; travelling from A to Z.

What is the worst meal you ever ate?

L is for Lopsided

My husband, Chris loves a great storm. Always has. While I have OTD (obsessive travel disorder), he has OSD (obsessive storm disorder).

He actually gets jealous when others get storms that he can’t have. Two words…Storm Envy.

His daily routine is check weather… check CNN… check work email and repeat. Over and over. In Guatemala, in Toronto, in Morocco, in Amsterdam… doesn’t matter… the routine repeats.

So chasing storms is a real thing. Not just reality TV. We live with it; uhm…  I mean him.

You know when too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing?

I can feel you nodding your head. Chris is nodding his too.

Off he went, on the road again, to be on the ferry again, to go to Newfoundland again.

But this time, this “again” would be different.

His storm gods had arrived and delivered. A wet, wild, and windy present of mess; all for Chris to open up and devour. He couldn’t believe his “luck”.

Chris meet Hurricane Ivan. Hurricane Ivan meet Chris. I am sure you two have a lot in common and will be great friends.

And so the relationship began. A little rocky at first; a bit hesitant and a tad shy. This is what Chris had always wanted, so he was motivated to make it work.

Others on board, did not understand their friendship. They stared, they whispered, they looked concerned. Reluctant to join in, they hunkered down on their own, refusing to believe any good could result.

As time passed, Hurricane Ivan tasted their scorn and lashed out with 14 metre waves crashing onto the fourth deck.

Chris, less sure of his newfound friendship, turned around. Screaming, tilting and vomiting surrounded him. Not quite how he had pictured this would look. Or even go down.

As the gifts began to fly off the shelves of the store, even the workers began to question whether Ivan was still welcome on board.

11 hours later, Chris decided to end his relationship. Lopsided but happy to see ground, he left it all behind.

Until the next storm, that is…

(Chris, my husband, attracts storms. Like a lightning rod. Danger pay should be included, at least when travelling with him.)

Happy boating from Chris, Cheryl and The Family C from A to Zeas.

Have you experienced a terrible storm? Do you like storms? I would love to hear from you.

 

 

K is for Kind

For some, India is an acronym for I will never do it again.

For others, India is an acronym for I need to do it again.

Despite a few rough moments (here and here and here) I loved being in India and have been planning my return forever.

Why? Because despite the bad press India receives sometimes, the country is full of incredibly kind people who will go out of their way to help you, even if the “help” looks and feels a lot different than you are used to 🙂

Expect the unexpected. No where is this more true than India.

Want to feel like a star? Hand out some autographs? Become pen pals with the world? Go to India.

Me, the glamorous tourist (NOT) handing out autographs.

Me, the glamorous tourist (NOT) handing out autographs.

Want to be kindly told what to do? Go to India.

Want to kindly help put out a fire? Good luck and go to India.

2015-04-02 11.42.19However, if India feels like too much too soon, then I highly recommend Cambodia, which for me, has some of the kindest people in the world.

For example, are you married? Did you invite a heap of strangers to your wedding? Didn’t think so.

However, Cambodians are so kind that they do invited strangers to their wedding; this time, being me, over and over. I even had to have a wedding wardrobe sewn to keep up!

At one of many Cambodian weddings. The bride is in the background!

At one of many Cambodian weddings. The bride is in the background!

And what about The Netherlands? A kind Dutch family wrote on their bench.  Please Take A Seat …but don’t smoke any weed or other funny stuff. Our kids are a bit too young to get stoned… Enjoy the best bench in Town!

1238710_10151856460972390_1854675771_nThe kindness of strangers.

Just like you who stop by to read, yet, we haven’t officially met.

Thank you for being so K for kind from the Family C on their path to A to Z.

Who are some of the kindest people you have met on your travels?

The Family C – Somewhat Divided by A to Z

(Jade, my teen daughter/writer, shares her point of view on the A to Z Challenge that I signed up for.)

No one told me that this challenge would be hard, nor did they say it would be easy. Though the most important thing that was left out, was the fact that this challenge involves me.

Shouts and calls heard from the kitchen are met by impatient groans. I rise once again to help my mother with her challenge, as she presents a poem she has written. I make a deal with her as I read over her poem that lacks poetic characteristics. If I help her, she will go to the grocery store and buy me some snack food.

I don’t believe you understand just what it is like to live in the “Family C” household at the moment. I sit on the couch, writing stories on my computer as my mother sits in the kitchen, writing entries to her blog. Of course, every time a post is soon to be published, I am called.

“JAAAAAAAAAAAADE!!”

“WHAAAAAT?”

“Can you come here please?”

“Why?”

“I want you to read this before I publish it.”

I groan and walk over to the kitchen, sitting down on the chair to read her story. I correct her work as she has given me the fun job as her editor. Unlike an actual editor’s job. Not only do I correct her pressing grammatical errors and misunderstood attempts with English punctuation, I also get to explain each time why I removed that semicolon.

At this point, when my mom has returned from her part of the deal and has read to the point of my last paragraph, I know what she will say.

“Don’t add that, Jade.”

“Sorry, too late. Imagine those words etched in stone, instead of completely removable by the click of a button, Mom.”

But as I did promise to write about my experiences of dealing with her A to Z challenge, and she is being a lovely mother at the moment by fulfilling her part of our deal, I shall write.

Dealing with the A to Z challenge is a pain in my neck.

And I’m not the one doing it.

I come home after school to discover sticky notes plastered on our walls and my mother sitting at her desk, either writing or eating salad while intensely staring at her computer screen.

She turns to face me and asks how my day has been.

This is my moment.

I now have five minutes to squeeze in my entire day before her next inevitable question.

“So, I was wondering if you had an idea for what I should do for the letter …?” or “So, I wrote this today and I want to know what you think.”

What started off as a good idea, something for my mother to have fun with has turned into a full fledged project. My mother working as the leader, while I have a part-time job as the whole committee. I must edit, I must share opinions (but not too many because then I am a teenager with an attitude problem apparently), and I must tell her that I like it.

Though she is having fun doing the challenge and telling me what people from other countries are saying, I am not having as much.

(Jade has now returned to her couch to her own writing and is happily snacking away on her chips. I, on the other hand, am reflecting on whether the above paints me in a bad light 🙂 Oh well and I hit the publish button.)

J is for Jailed

I have one little quirky trait. Well at least one that I will admit to.

I am fascinated with jails… always have been. I blame my father.

He was a politician and a new jail had opened up in our town. Being who he was, he was required to go cut the ribbon (or maybe the wire) to announce its new opening. I guess small town Canada is desperate to celebrate anything.

Yay! We have criminals and now we have a finer place to put them. Check out these cells!

My eyes were wide open. I took it all in and from there it began.. the fascination that is… not the time spent.

Having visited jails in Canada and one in South Africa (admittedly a bit scary but a job requirement to determine voter eligibility for its first non-racial democratic election), my all-time favourite jail experience was visiting Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco.

Standing forlornly out in the water on an island, it felt eerie, unlike any place I have been. I couldn’t get my head wrapped around what it would have been like. Until I discovered…

There was actually a former prisoner signing autographs of his book right there in Alcatraz.

Rushing to the cue, I stand in awe. Like some teen obsessed with fan fiction, I wait to buy the book, get it autographed and then ask a question or two.

Finally I am there. I am standing in front of him. And this mouth, that usually works in overdrive, completely rebels.

I ask nothing. I am a star struck (well convict struck) loser.

Shyly moving away from the table, I grab the book and proceed to gobble it up; word by word.

On a more serious note, I am drawn to books about people wrongly convicted of crimes (David Milgaard) and how the justice system can fail. On a lighter (?) note, viewing Wentworth and Shawshank Redemption replaces my desire to visit jails; which occurs less and less. Probably a good thing.

Staying out of trouble with Cheryl and The Family C from A to Z.

Do you have a favourite book and/or movie that is set in a jail?

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I is for Imperfect

Our family is known for having at least one crisis on every family trip. I have a friend who calls them Cheryl stories.

These crises range from a sandstorm in the Sahara , to arriving in a tiny village in Peru late at night to discover our hotel room taken to the volcano fiasco in Guatemala. These are the imperfect travel moments that our kids relish and retell. These are the ones that stand out and make us laugh; after they are over.

We were in Antigua, Guatemala. Check guide book. Follow book. (well not really) The beginning of the going wrong part.

Walking, looking for the tour company recommended by our guide book, we get side tracked; in fact completely derailed. We just don’t know it yet. A guy comes up and says he does tours to climb the Pacaya volcano. We think he sounds fine, looks fine, why not go with him. This is Mr.El Barco.

Next morning, after a lot of waiting, Mrs.El Barco shows up to say they overbooked and we need to go the next day. A little put off, we agree; uneasily.

Next morning, we actually go. The van is full of gringos; of the much younger and robust variety than us. Jammed on top of each other, like cattle being sent off for slaughter; we are at the mercy of the tour “leader”, a term loosely used.

Upon arrival at the base of the volcano, all erupts. Touts galore vying for our attention scream, gesture and push to get us to take their horse up the volcano. A horse? We paid to walk up this thing and that is what we will do. Jade is younger, 12, and a little out of sorts. We think it is the chaos; maybe the competitive feel set by our fellow tour members: the who will outrun the others to get to the top first. We don’t know.

We begin to climb. We are at the back. It is not looking good nor feeling good. Jade says she feels sick. I look at Chris and question. We have only just begun. We head back to the base. We look for the El Barcos, our stellar leaders who brought us here. This is how it goes down.

Hello. Our daughter is sick. Is there any chance we could get a lift back to town? 

No. 

Oh I see. Well how long will it be until this is over and we can return?

About 3 hours or so. 

Well, as you can see, our daughter is sick. Could we stay in your van while we wait?

No.

What?!!! Looking around, there is nothing to sit on but some rocks in the open sun.

Lawyer me steps up to the van, supremely irritated. I set off a Spanglish stream of words and they relent. Not too happily.

Jade and I creep into the back of the El Barco van, a little nervously. Not feeling wanted; the El Barco clan continues on with their morning fiesta listening to their (not appropriate for 12-year-olds) English music, gorging on fried chicken and ignoring us. Drafting an evil TripAdvisor review in my head, we sit and wait forever… or so it seems. Us in the stinky loud van and Chris on the rocks; separated but together in misery.

Finally, the gringos return, announce nothing but fog so overall a non-event for all.

Relieved to be returning to hotel sweet hotel, Mr. El Barco, drunk on greasy food and pop, blows a tire going down a hill.

Waiting now on the road while Mr. El Barco "repairs" the tire.

Waiting now on the road while Mr. El Barco “repairs” the tire.

Now the waiting is left to the side of the road. And everyone is less than pleased. Not just us. I greedily anticipate many lousy TripAdvisor reviews as a result. (travel revenge… not a pretty thing)

The El Barcos finally deliver… as we enter our hotel room. Walking through the door, we replay the El Barco fiasco/fiesta and the laughter begins. Imperfect can be funny; when it is finally over.

Follow along with the Family C as they head from A to Z. Interested in reading more on imperfect?

(Cheryl and her daughter will be moving to Egypt in August where more El Barcos await, or otherwise known as Cheryl stories.)

Do you have an imperfect travel story (an El Barco of your own) that you would like to share?