Merrymaking in Myanmar

 

IMG_0005We pulled into the Yangon Central train station at 5:45am. We were just in time to see the majestic sun waking up. We’d come from Bagan on an overnight bus and were quite the sight. We still hadn’t solidified logistics with our host in Yangon, so were feeling a little unsettled.
While at that train station we began to take in our surroundings, noting that the main hall of the train station was filling up with local travelers, many of them wearing the traditional longyis, and yellow paint of their faces. There were many side rooms in the station, full of people, sleeping on floor mats, just rising from a long night sleep.  We went to the bathroom to try to refresh. There were two ladies sitting outside of the bathroom waiting for me to pay them a few coins to use the facilities. Once in the bathroom, I thought it unusual that one of the stalls was converted into a sleeping room and realized that it probably belonged the ladies manning the door, that this was actually their house. So, we decided to wait until we got to our host home to really clean up.

IMG_0010We were hungry and found a local vender selling these delicious pastries that you dipped in a coffee like substance and eventually the four of us reunited back in the main hall. Craig had already negotiated our tickets and we had finally connected with our host and boarded our train.

As we boarded the train a few things caught our eye. First, the train car we boarded said “Ordinary Class” on the side of the car. We thought that was pretty funny that we were riding the ordinary car. Second, we were fascinated by the many riders with unusually red mouths. They were chewing something and would spit long streams of red dye out of the window of the train car. When they would smile we could see a twinkle in their eye, however, seeing their teeth was another story as most them were missing. There was one man who strolled through our car with a round metal tray filled with all sort of nuts, white powder stuff, leaves, and little bowls to crush stuff in. We later learned that he was selling a sort of chewing tobacco,  called Betle. We learned it was quite addicting and besides the loss of teeth, it’s also a leading cause of mouth cancer. The tradition runs 2000 years deep, so even with the new health information it will probably take a long while before it’s looked down upon in the common land.

IMG_0018We finally found our way to our host home and stumbled in about 9am. We were exhausted but excited to meet our new friends and hear about their journey from Phoenix AZ to Yangon, Myanmar. Mother/Daughter duo, Brenda and Nola, founders of the organization R.A.T (Run against Trafficking)  based out of Phoenix AZ, have worked for the past three years and raised thousands of dollars advocating for programs that assist victims of human trafficking. Through a series of events including a visit to Myanmar in 2013, they solidified their desire to come over and implement a similar strategy to raise awareness through their 5K R.A.T race. Three weeks prior to our visit they had facilitated their first run, which we learned was the first non-profit run in the history of Myanmar. It was a huge success and opened many doors with local leaders. We enjoyed hearing their stories of near misses and moments of divine orchestration at exactly the right time.

One afternoon, Brenda and Nola introduced us to their friend Rick Chase, who told us his story of working in refuge camps back in Canada and hearing the tragic stories of the people of Myanmar. He said, these stories inspired he and his family to give up everything in Vancouver to try to make a change. After doing a bit of research, Rick found that helping to meet a nutritional need was one ways he have a major impact. He decided to take a risk and start a local soy milk business called Snowball Soy. He shared his struggles of starting a business in a foreign country but his vision to feed one million people, orphans especially, across Myanmar, seemed to rise above the struggles. He’s brought over a Canadian invention called a Vitagoat soy food processing machine. The machines are inexpensive to set up and can be run without any electricity, which means a Vitagoat can be used not just in urban areas, but in refugee camps and the middle of the jungle.

While at lunch with Rick, we made note of his language skills and he said that it was a necessity to learn the language and learn it well. He said he felt that it was a major contributing factor in the success of his business. We concurred and enjoyed the benefit of having someone with us that could communicate in the native tongue as our food seemed to taste better and arrive quicker than normal.

IMG_9036On another occasion, in our little neighborhood, we were invited by Mai, the owner of the condo apartments we were staying at, to perform a concert for the locals on her front porch. As we set up our instruments, people from up and down the street began to gather around. Music is a universal language and for that one hour we all spoke that same language and sang our hearts out. Merrymaking on the streets of Yangon was a highlight to be sure and meeting sweet Mai, her family and all of her neighbors was a sheer delight.

As the week progressed, I found myself ill and in bed but Craig and the kids continued to explore. Craig was quite popular on the streets of Yangon and found welcome in most places with his huge mustache and bright smile.

IMG_9087As he wandered the streets, he was especially fascinated with the construction process, tools and crews. At one point, he was watching in wonderment as a crew build a three-story building. One of the workers noticed him and waved him up to the third floor take a closer look. Language was a barrier but the smiles and hand gestures were enough to understand the process. The manual labor component was intense as they would mix the concrete by hand below and then take turns carrying the loads in metal bowls, on their heads, up to the third floor, in flip flops on uneven surfaces. Craig was especially in awe of the women on the crew who would carry the same weight on their heads as the men.

Then, on one occasion, Craig popped into a convenience store looking for a calendar of the infamous Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi. As he entered, the young man behind the counter quickly ran to the back of the shop to hide behind a curtain. Soon a few heads were peaking around the corner at Craig, hands to their faces to hold in their giggles. Eventually, they pushed a young girl forward and she slowly walked to the counter, eying Craig up and down with a big smile on her face, making a gesture with her hands above her lip clearly communicating that he was quite the sight. He got a kick out of their playfulness but didn’t find his calendar there. However, later, Mai from the condo, handed Craig a gift and it had a lovely calendar for him.

IMG_0019On another occasion, Craig was walking near the train tracks and saw an old-fashioned train control center. He began to poke in and around the building and was eventually invited by the two fella’s manning the booth, to come in.

He was excited to able to get up close and have a good look at the vintage mechanics of using levers to change train tracks. He walked in with his shoes on, which was a no no but the fella’s graciously gestured for him to remove them. Once again, despite the language barrier, these fella’s seemed quite happy to have Craig’s company for a little while; they admiring his big red mustache and he admiring their lever system.

 

IMG_9032And of course, you can’t go to Yangon without stopping by the ancient billion dollar pagoda in the city center. Craig and the kid went to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda, known as the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar. It apparently contains relics of the four previous Buddhas of the present kalpa. These relics include the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa, and eight strands of hair from the head of Gautama. According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda was constructed more than 2,600 years ago, making it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world. Out of respect, no one can wear any clothing that shows their knees, so our son, who had gone in shorts, had to purchase a traditional longyis and wear that throughout the grounds. He rocked it out.

IMG_9030History, traditions and legends aside, it was the immense amount of gold and jewels in the temple that really made an impact on the kids. When they returned they told me of the grandness  of the pagoda, exclaiming that it’s worth was upwards near US$4 billion dollars. My mind couldn’t grasp what $4billion dollars in a constructed building would look like but they described it well telling of the half a tonne of gold in Shwedagon’s umbrella alone. Then there was the 5500 diamonds – the largest of which is similar in size to one that Sotheby’s auctioned for $10-12 million, and gems galore, including 2300 rubies, sapphires, and other gems, in the main spire and 4000 golden bells. Then there was the gold, jewels, and 21st-century LED displays that swirls around many of the Buddhas. Actually, it was quite overwhelming to even think about. With all the jewels abounding, we could imagine a hilarious Pink Panther movie being filmed here!

IMG_9045Near the end of our stay in Yangon we met Polly, a shop owner across the street from where we were staying. Her little sewing shop was called Gold Rose Design and Creation and she had about eight young ladies working for her. I decided to pop my head in and see about having my pants altered before we flew to Singapore the next day. She assured me they would be finished by evening and asked me to stop back then. I went back to our host home to pack and prepare for the journey ahead. We shared our last meal with Brenda and Nola at a local joint across the way and then went back to get my pants from the Gold Rose. It was about 10pm when I arrived and some of the girls were working on a beautiful beaded piece, others were cleaning up for the day. I sat down on one of the stools and began to chat with Polly, who spoke english fairly well. She shared a little bit of her story stating that she, her husband and little daughter owned the humble little sewing shop.

IMG_9069The more I listened, asked questions and navigated language, I realized Polly’s business was a creative way of caring for her community. She was providing a safe environment for her students and workers to learn and grow. Her sewing shop was a wonderful beckon of light and offered Polly and opportunity to nurture and train up young women by equipping them not only with a skill set but with a beautiful understanding of self-worth.  As I went to pay for her service, she waved her hand and said, no, this is a gift for you. Then she handed both my daughter and myself beautiful scarves as a gift as well. I was in tears by this point feeling the love that comes when we are showered with gifts. It’s meeting people like Polly that gives us hope. And, that’s what I would say about the most of the Myanmar people we had the delight to encounter. They were authentic in their interactions and genuinely hospitable people. They cared for us in their kind looks/gestures, guided us across busy streets, smiled at us with friendly amusement, and they blessed us with radical hospitality.

What a joy to be able to catch a glimpse of all the inner makings of the local people in places far off and lands of wonder. I hope that one day, we will be invited back and that when we come that we can bless our friends in Myanmar as much as we’ve felt blessed by them.

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The Highlands of Vietnam

Di Linh (Vietnamese: Di Linh; French: Djiring) is a district (huyện) of Lâm Đồng Province in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam.

As of 2003 the district had a population of 154,472.The district covers an area of 1,628 km². The district capital lies at Di Linh.

And, that is about all Wikipedia has to say about the place. But, we would add so much more!

IMG_7729First off, going from sea level in Phan Theit, rolling through hills up to about 4000 feet into the highlands was spectacular! And the stops on the way up offered a taste of some of the best coffee in the world. And, for those who don’t know, coffee is one of Mr. Hollands love languages.

The coffee city that gets the most attention in the region is Da Lat and I’m sure it’s a wonderful place for tourists. For us, however, connecting with locals and learning about life through their eyes is more important. So, we were pleased when our friend Joe invited us to come with him up to visit Di Linh, to share a meal, story and sacred space with his kinfolk, who all happen to be coffee farmers.

IMG_1214The community treated us to a traditional meal, coffee of course, and we sang together. We were honored to find out we were there first international guests! We shared our story and they shared theirs and what we learned is that they have the same struggles many of us have around the world with desires for a good, healthy, long life and dealing with the many obsticals that can get in the way.

IMG_1230We met Than, a generational coffee farmer. Thans ancestors had farmed over a hundred hectares but after the war, his families land was seized and he now farms about two hectares. From that 2 hectares he produces 10 tonnes of bean; Arabica, robusta and a third coffee which is a blend. Most is sold to dealers to be exported.

He taught us about the growing process stating that the trees last for about 50 years, and produce bigger yields each year. Harvest time is in December and he hires on about 6 extra migrant workers to help with the harvest. A tarp is set on the ground that catches the beans as the workers pull them off the branches. Then the beans are then set out in the front yard to dry for 10 days before being packaged. Than also grows red flamingo flowers in green houses through out the year and sells them to stores all over Vietnam.

Honestly, Di Linh could have been any little rural town in the US where folks are hard working, value the land they live on and care about their families and their faith. It’s off the beaten path but for us Di Linh and the people we met there will always hold a special place in our hearts. And the coffee, that was just the warm up to the truest love language there is, connection.

 

 

Photo Journalist

545371_10150940796765376_1314888666_nIn 2010, Kara Counard started coming regularly to our local shows in Northeast Wisconsin. She would show up with her son, friends and a handful of brightly colored hula hoops. Her spirit was humble and as she engaged with our music, a joy would permeate through out the venue. If there was a show where she wasn’t present, we would all make note afterwards, stating that we missed her dancing and jovial hooping. At a certain point, I remember approaching her and declaring how much we appreciated her presence and noted her commitment as a “fan” but that we were keen to share community and story with her and wanted her to be our friend. She shyly agreed to joining us for dinner on our patio one summer evening and that was the beginning of our dear friendship.

Besides being an excellent hooper, Kara has a natural gift and honed talent as a professional photographer. In fact, her eye is prolific, capturing not only the perfect composition but seeing and embracing the light that makes life look absolutely beautiful.

At the beginning of 2015, a conversation began about her desire to ride along on the Hollands bus, as a photo journalist, documenting life on the road. This spring she flew to Asheville and rode with us for a solid week, camera in tow. She chronicled intimate family time, exploring Asheville, a house concert in Pittsboro, historical Richmond, and a beach day in Virginia Beach.

Prior to Kara’s arrival, our son, Banjo, had developed a desire to try his hand at photography. He had been researching camera’s for months and hoped to purchase one for his 14th birthday. So, while Kara was on board, he really sought her expertise on the subject, discovering even more information about brands, lenses, and the art of photography.

IMG_2500A few days into her time with us, her camera started acting up and we had to visit a camera store. Although it was unfortunate the problem was solvable and she had a rented camera within the hour. Her inconvenience ended up being a blessing in disguise for Banjo, as the forced visit to the camera store accelerated his purchase and he walked out with a used Nikon D90 and 50 millimeter lens. Immediately the photography lessons commenced and before the day’s end, with Kara’s guidance, Banjo conquered the Nikon’s components, ready to practice honing his “eye.”

It’s been a blast watching him explore his new-found love, especially with his sister, who is always looking for a photographer for her Dutchygazelle Blog. Big thanks to Kara for taking time away from family and friends, for honoring us with her amazing gifts and talents and for being our friend!

To see more of Kara’s awesome work visit www.bloomphotographybykara.com

America’s Favorite Drive

IMG_2015There is something special about taking a long leisurely drive, over rolling hills, through the forest, stopping here and there to breathe in the fresh air. We set out on a Friday morning, rolling from Asheville, NC on the famed Blue Ridge Parkway. Our destination was Gatlinburg, TN and according to Google maps the drive was meant to be 86.5 miles/2 hr 10 min. However, because we wanted to take our time, experiencing the Blue Ridge Parkway at a slow-pace, our drive ended up being 6 hours total. As we meandered, we took in the stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. At Highway marker 109 we stopped off just past Mt. Pisgah, for a quick hike up Frying Pan. The hike was about 3/4 miles straight up to the tower. It took us about 45 min but the views were amazing.

We continued on towards Gatlinburg, stopping a few more times, to explore some of the Parkway’s stunted hardwoods and flora, includes various grasses, shrubs (including rhododendrons and dogwoods), hemlock, mixed-oak pine forests and spruce-fir forests.

IMG_2169The transition into the Smokey Mountains was noticeable as the foliage and elevations changed. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs atop the mountains, where as, once we entered the Smokey Mountains, the highway began to descend deep into the valley and surrounding forest, running along the river.

We stopped one last time for a quick hike at Clingmans Dome in the Smokey Mountain National Forest. This hike climbs about a 1/2 a mile to a look out tower. About half way up we spotted a Black Bear and her baby cubs. The park signs warned that approximately 1,500 bears live in the park, which equals a population density of roughly two bears per square mile. We kept our distance and kept walking to the top. Clingman’s dome is a 70’s space aged tower and offered some pretty fantastic views. Funny how sometimes getting to the top of the mountain isn’t enough, rather we long to go that extra bit to the top of the tower, on the top of the mountain.

Tennessee-Gatlinburg-Rocking-Chairs-Music-LAfter our hike we spent a few hours dining and walking around Gatlinburg. This crazy  mountain town is a fantastic version of the county fair mixed with every bizarre tourist attraction you can think of, including things like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Wax Museum Putty Golf, folks sipping on Moonshine while watching a bluegrass band, and all the ice cream, cotton candy, fudge, fried foods and any other sweet treats you desire. After a long leisurely day over the mountain and through the woods, soaking in all the goodness that nature offers, Gatlinburg was a bit overstimulating. Still, it did the job in refueling us and getting us on our way back to Asheville.

All up we’d do this 14 hour day again. Thankful for opportunities to explore and experience all of the beauty in this great big world.

How We Got Stuck In Wilmington

Wilmington, NC was voted the best river city in the US for 2015, and we’d have to concur. Population 112,000, this little river town has all the admeities of a city three times it’s size, including Trader Joes and Whole Foods. But, best of all it still has all of the mom and pop speciality joints, including some of the best BBQ on the Atlantic, surf shops, Brits Donut shop, the Veggie Store, funky/artsy downtown shops reminiscent of Austin’s Congress Street, awesome Thrift and Consignment Stores, and pretty great Sushi. It’s music, food, history, river ways, and beaches offered us a wonderful back drop for blue grass jams, roadschool days, parties, lazy days on the beach and a sailboat ride.

Originally we had planned one week in this region connecting with fellow travelers, The Shanks (Herd of Turtles). During that week they showed us around their former hometown, including a double date where we shared Niki’s Sushi and went to a R&B concert at a little speak easy. Later, while the fella’s talked bus conversions, us girls shopped at some of Wilmington’s fun consignment stores, we also spent an evening dining and playing music at Dukes BBQ. Along the way, they introduced us to many of their hometown friends, which lead to conversations about parking in peoples driveways, which lead to us staying longer after the Shanks had gone.

 

IMG_1718Our first host family, April and Buck Hubbard, welcomed us to jump into life with them, learning about their work in Children’s Ministry and Film making, as well as, their love for Settlers of Catan. Their location in the city was a great fit as we were able to explore more of downtown Wilmington, as well as, catch up on much needed laundry and grocery shopping. We love it when hosts are comfortable just living life with us offering suggestions for things to do but mostly just allowing us to participate in their every day rhythm. We shared meals, watched movies, visited their friends, had a birthday party, did lawn work and Craig and Banjo were also able to get their hands dirty by helping the Hubbards finishing off their deck project for April’s birthday celebration.

IMG_1847One Sunday evening they invited us to go to Satellite Bar for a open Bluegrass Jam which turned out to be a fantastic night of community and song. The house band, Possum Creek Bluegrass Band, welcomed us like old friends. Their Band members are Jones Smith, Big Al Hall, Ben Chontos, with special guest Charlie Coulter on Violin and Bryan Humphrey on the squeeze box.  They played all the classics, and they played them well, setting a tone of support and control, so that even a beginner could sit in with them. They were gracious to us all and especially excited to have our son sit in on cajon, and the Hubbard’s 11 yr old daughter, who plays fiddle, join in the fun. They even offered us a cameo spot to share a few of our Hollands! songs, while they sat in with us. By the end of the night, we were all good friends and Bryan’s wife, Mari invited us to their home in Wrightsville Beach for a delicious meal and another bluegrass jam.

 

IMG_1732Pristine Wrightsville Beach boasts emerald green waters, and is home to a few surf/kite surfing clubs,and the inter-coastal water ways offer awesome protection for sailing and paddle boarding. Over the next week and a half, we ended up joining Mari and Bryan for more jams, beach days and even a first season sail on their sailboat. We learned about Mari’s 3 year nomadic adventure, leaving for England with a backpack and coming back from India with nothing but a little shoulder bag. She would partner with others along the way, as well as solo, traveling the world in little VW vans, having a daughter in the Netherlands and crossing the Sahara dessert in a Peugeot 505 Sedan twice. And, Bryan inspired us with his amazing furniture architecture, sailing expertise and of course teaching us about some of the North Carolina folk music culture.

IMG_2108Our second host family, the Meehan’s, invited us to come, park in their cul de sac and enjoy their Carolina Beach for a few days. Carolina Beach sits about 20 miles south of downtown Wilmington and has a laid back, festive, welcoming vibe with brightly colored beach shacks, little shops, including the infamous Brits Donuts and bars that run along the new board walk. There are benches and swings that over look the beach and a band shell, which is sure to be packed in the summer.  Our time at the Meehan’s was restful and spiritually engaging. We shared meals, hiked and worked out the deeper meanings of community and faith.

IMG_1898We also enjoyed exploring some of the historical elements and took a cloudy day trip south to Fort Fisher, later riding the ferry to Southport for lunch. While there we walked the grounds and visited the free museum, learning about the strategic placement of Fort Fisher in the Civil War and the Blockade runners (war paddle steamers that would haul supplies in from the islands off of the Atlantic to the Wilmington port.) The battle to take the fort was epic and it was said that 90 days after the fort fell, the Civil War ended. After we finished at the Fort we took the ferry to Southport. It was $5 for our carload and took about 40 minutes to cross. Once we were in Southport we made our way down to the Yacht Basin Provision Company for their shrimp and wings. The food was basic but held delicious flavors. The fella’s devoured their portion while Graciana and I shared a bowl of the homemade chowder and a crab cake. The little town was reminiscent of Baileys Harbor, WI with cute little shops and portside docks. Between the Fort, ferry ride, and lunch at YBPC, the day that started out rainy turned sunny and we finished off the evening with one last sit on Carolina Beach.

When we pulled out of Wilmington we all felt that a little piece of our heart stayed behind. Inspired not only by all that Wilmington has to offer, but by the amazing people we met along the way, the stories we heard, and the commitment to keep the culture of Wilmington full of hope, creativity and love.

Carolina Clam Bake

We’ve been wandering up and down the Carolina coast for the past few weeks. Recently, we put a shout out on our Facebook page letting folks know we were in the Wilmington, NC area and asked if there were any kinfolk who’d like to neighbor with us.

Our friend, Julie in Sturgeon Bay, WI responded with enthusiasm that her best friend, Grace and husband, Skip, lived just two hours north of our location and that we should go visit them. The fun thing was that I had known about Grace for years, as there were times that Julie and I would be hanging out and Grace would come up in conversation or she might even text/call while Julie and I were together. So, to actually meet up, was a pretty sweet idea.

IMG_1672We called Grace and she said to please come, that she and Skip were going to be hosting their annual “Clambake” and we were welcome to join in the fun. So we made plans to drive our mini-van to their home in Morehead City for the weekend.

When we arrived they offer us a hearty greeting, giving us a lay of the land, escorting us to our bed rooms and inviting us down for dinner and drinks. About an hour later, neighbors started arriving and merrily introduced themselves. It felt like we walked into an episode of Happy Days with a hint of the old 70’s classic, On Golden Pond. There was a natural connection between them all and it was encouraging to be welcomed in like old friends.

IMG_1683The next morning the preparations for the clam bake were under way. Grace peeled carrots, chopped onions and washed potatoes. And, Skip a retired professor in Aquaculture, wrangled Craig and Banjo to help him get the clams in order, pulling them up out of the water into a wheel barrow and washing them clean. He explained the process of farming the sea and all that goes into raising clams. Then it was time to start the kettles, boiling the water bath, preparing for the vegetables and then finally the clams.

The excitement began to brew as folks started to arrive. Many brought a drink to share and an appetizer but the crescendo came when Skip announced that the clams were finished and called everyone over to the picnic table covered in newspaper. We gathered, held hands, said a prayer and watched in awe as Skip emptied the contents onto the table. We all lined up, filled our plates and our bellies, finishing the evening with a regular ol’ Hollands sing along around the piano. The food was delicious, the company was gracious and kind and the experience was one to remember.

 

NYC on a Shoe String

IMG_0772For Graciana’s 18th birthday we wanted to do something really special. Graciana had been talking about New York City for the past two years and we were ready to make her dream come true. We saved a few dollars to buy two airplane tickets and with our sky miles, we booked a four star hotel on Manhattan Island in New York City.

On Thursday, Nov 13 we celebrated her birthday with a few friends in Austin, where we surprised her with a card that read, “Pack your bags, you’re leaving for NYC at 8am tomorrow morning.” She was over the moon!

Day 1: We arrived the next afternoon into La Guardia, bought a $30 unlimited train pass and hoped on the Q70, transferred to the blue line and got off on 51st st and Lexington. We walk a few blocks south to The Lexington Hotel where my mother (Graciana’s nana) surprised us in our room.

Our first night in NYC was like a sugar high. Talk about sensory overload, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We met an old friend, John Silvis, in SOHO. John is an artist, investor, art curator and gallery owner. He’s lived in Brooklyn for about 20 years. He met us at the subway and took us on a little walking tour around SOHO.

IMG_0769We made our way to an art opening that showcased a new, hot, South African artist named, Serge Alain Nitegeka. It was a small room and as soon as we walked in all eyes turned our way. John introduced us to those standing close to the door and began to make his way deeper into the room. I turned to the right where there was a man leaning against the wall and I began a conversation with him that lasted throughout our time there. His name was Steve and most of my questions about his life were deflected with funny anecdotes and one liners. He asked me questions in kind and I shared freely about who I was and why I was there. At one point in our conversation, a Brooklyn based artist, named Sol Sax, joined our conversation and while I was asking him about his art form, a short, bi-racial man with an afro and 70’s style ski jacket came over and sort of mumbled something to me, when I looked over he mumbled again and then abruptly walked away. My attention turned back to our group as Steve was telling Sol about how our family travels and plays music. With delight, he called us the modern-day Van Traps. That was all the prompt my mother needed and she enthusiastically suggested we share one of our songs right then and there. Steve and Sol concurred and so, we sang an acapella piece just under the noise of the room as to not over power. Our listeners were touched and later John mentioned that he heard the music from across the room but totally though it was a CD playing in the background.

We left the first gallery and walked deeper into the heart of SOHO, eventually finding our way to a second gallery where John was excited to introduce us to one of his artists, Robin Kang. The room was wall to wall with people and my mom and Graciana were very hungry, so we told John that we could only stay a minute. I went into the gallery to meet Robin and enjoyed her amazing tapestry work. While we were squeezing through the sea of people I bumped into that same man who sort of mumbled to me at the first gallery, the man with the 70’s ski jacket. I almost knocked him over actually, and startled him in my attempt to catch his fall. I realized who he was and tried to make note of seeing him earlier but he was skittish and moved deeper into the crowd. It was a strange but notable interaction only because we were in New York City with millions of other people. I mean what are the odds of us bumping into another human being twice.

We finished the evening at a lovely Italian restaurant called Galli. It was pricey but it was late and we were famished after a day of travel. Between the three of us we shared an entrée, main dish and salad, plus two glasses of wine for a total of $75. We finished around midnight and rode the subway back to the hotel. Our heads hit the pillow, belly’s full, feet throbbing from a long day of walking, and our minds whirling with excitement for the day to come.

IMG_0794Day 2: The next morning started with a stop at Angela’s grocery, across the street from our hotel for a $7 green smoothy. Then we walked to Grand Central Station and enjoyed the beautiful architecture, eventually making our way down towards Wall street to a discount fashion store called  Century 21 (C21). Graciana found a few treasures and then we grabbed a light lunch  at a little deli called Pret. We all shared a sandwich, three cups of soup, chips and three drinks for $26. The coolest thing about the restaurant was that a portion of the proceeds go to feeding the homeless.

After lunch, we made our way down to see the 9/11 memorial and New World Trade Center. On our way the mood was light and expectant, but as soon as we came up out of the station at the Trade Center there was a cloud of grey that swept over us. It was sobering walking around the area, slowly making our way around the large city block, stopping at the monuments and seeing all the new things that are being built.  Graciana was five years old when the twin towers were struck and my mom shared with Graciana the story and impact that the event had on her.

While we were walking back to the train, we stopped by to see a group of street performers. There were about 6 young men, dancing and putting on a great show.  During the performance, a finely dressed man from India was called out of the audience to participate. It was a comical skit and he was a good sport. We threw $5 into their kitty and kept on our way.

IMG_0816We went back up to SOHO for dinner at an Americana restaurant called Freemans, which Graciana had heard about through her fashion blogging friends and was keen to try. It was a sweet little hole in the wall and beckoned us with twinkle lights. We arrived about 5:15pm for an early dinner and happened to walk through the doors to get our name in before the rush. We waited about an hour at the bar and met a cool group of folks who were there for the weekend to shoot a commercial. Our conversation flowed smoothly, as if we were old friends. We found commonality in growing up in Michigan and found that our current stop of Austin was home to one of our new friends. We were sat in a cozy corner and ordered the Cod special, the Fillet Minion and the Mac-n-Cheese. Our dinner was delicious. All up our bill was $120.

After dinner we walked down Broadway so Graciana could shop at all of her favorite stores, getting ideas for her blog, DutchyGazelle. While she was shopping, my mom and I took a seat at The Crosby Street Hotel, a beautiful boutique hotel just off of the main drag. We ordered hot ginger tea for $7 each, relaxing and talking about how much we had already seen and experienced in our first twenty-four hours. We made note of all of the unexpectedly friendly conversations we had on the subway, in the little shops and at restaurants.

At about 11pm, we rode the train to Times Square. When we came up out of the subway station we were blown away by the absolute ridiculousness of all of the big screen TV’s, lights and larger than life advertisements. A few steps into Times Square and we met a man named David, who was trying to sell us tickets to a comedy show. We stopped to chat with him and found out that he used to work on the SS Badger (the car ferry that crosses from Ludington, MI to Manitowoc, WI) with my brother and sister-in-law!! Really people it’s such a small world. Anyway, we didn’t make it to the comedy show but rather made our way back to our hotel. While we were walking on 49th and Lexington, I spotted the Indian man from earlier in the day walking towards us. I was so surprised that I stopped him with delight claiming (probably in a high voice) that I had seen him earlier that day and how fantastic the odds were that one could see someone twice in one day, especially in two different parts of this great big city. He smiled, concurred, wished me well and carried on.

IMG_0789Day 3: We arose later than expected, my mom and I feeling a bit weary from all of the walking, and decided to enjoy a more leisurely day. We started at Angela’s  with our $7 smoothy and rode the train to the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked around for a bit, taking in all of the old world architecture of the city municipal buildings and then began to walk our way across the bridge. It was a cold, blustery day but worth ever minute. The bridge itself was breathtaking and the views of all the different sides of the city were fantastic. We walked to Walters, a quaint little restaurant that our friend, Matt Nakoa had suggested. We met Matt in Austin at a Folk Alliance event and found out he lived in Brooklyn. unfortunately, he was in Upstate New York but we met his friend, Michelle, enjoyed a lovely meal and when we finished found that Matt had already taken care of our tab. Gotta love a free meal in NYC, specially from a friend.

After our long, enjoyable lunch we began to make our way back across the bridge to Battery Park and to get a closer look at the Statue of Liberty. The sun was going down and the chill was a bit much so snapped a few photos and we rode the train a few stops north to Little Italy. We stopped for a coffee and pastry at the infamous, Ferrara Bakery and Pastry Shoppe. It was delicious and worth the $8 each for the taster plate that included three amazing pastries. We strolled around Little Italy for a bit and then made our way back across the Brooklyn Bridge for one final meal with our friend John. He took us to Sea Thai. The restaurant had a cool laid back vibe with a DJ in the booth spinning, techno and low lighting. We ordered family style, getting a sushi roll, a curry dish and noodle dish to share. All up it was about $80 for four people, our cheapest dinner thus far. After dinner we rode with John in his car to his work studio and learned more about his art and gallery world. He dropped us back at the subway and we went straight home to the hotel, exhausted from a wonderful day of walking.

IMG_0872Day 4: On our last morning in NYC it was raining like cats and dogs. It was cold and windy but we found $5 umbrella’s available to us right outside the hotel doors. We packed our bags, checked out of our hotel, grabbed our traditional $7 smoothy and made our way to the upper east side of Manhattan Island.  We took a quick stroll from the subway through Park Ave to Central park and then to the Metropolitan Art Museum. The MET asks for a suggested donation of $25 per person, but we were down to our last dollars so we donated $30 total for our two-hour visit. It was a bit overwhelming but our favorite exhibit was the instrument exhibit, showcasing primitive to modern instruments from all over the world, including a number of original Martin guitars. Graciana spent most of her time at a fashion exhibit called Death Becomes Her; Century of Mourning Attire; curated by Anna Wintour.

IMG_0878By the time, we finished there and grabbed a quick bite to eat at a little cafe, it was time to catch our plane. The trip back was relatively uneventful except for the fact that we got delayed in Houston and had to stay an extra night there. Needless to say, we all were a bit underwhelmed by the flat, desolate landscape that surrounded the Houston airport and longed to be back in the rhythm of that beautiful Big Apple. We spent $250 per plane ticket, the hotel cost us 8 years of saving, 110,000 miles for the four nights at the Lexington, and we spent $175 each for food/drinks, $30 each for our unlimited train pass, $30 for our pass to the MET and Graciana spent about $100 on little treasures she found along her way. All up, our budget for the long weekend was approx $1060 or $530 a person. Truly a once in a life time for us nomadic travelers.

Our songbird fell in love with NYC and when the time is right, I don’t doubt she’ll be back!

Dutchy Gazelle