Category: Family (Page 1 of 2)

Blue Lake Trail

As I started this post, I thought how I would share about the Blue Lake trail itself; how steep it was, how exposed it was, how well a family could hike it, how many switchbacks there were, and how busy the trail was.  But as I sat to write, thought, started sentences and deleted them, I realized my story isn’t about the trail and the minutiae of it.



Yes, the Blue Lake trail was gorgeous.  Yes, it was dusty and rocky and rooty.  Yes, you too should go hike it.


We climbed through forests, small mountain meadows and looked upon sweeping vistas that made me smile.


As with any given family hike, someone or many someones found it challenging while others or many others found it refreshing and invigorating.  On our first hike of the trail, October and I found Blue Lake to be difficult while on our second hike of the trail Lavender found the trail to be difficult.  Both days though we made it to the lake in 2 hours (give or take).


But, we actually hiked this trail twice in one week and getting the children to return with the promise of fishing and not doughnuts should tell you …. it’s an excellent destination!


The signposts warning of habituated mountain goats had us excited at the possibility of spotting one and nervous about the possibility of stumbling upon mountain goats.  The girls found mountain goat hair and recreated scenes from the Lion King on the numerous rock outcroppings along the trail.


I marveled at the beauty of this state that I call home.  I fondly thought of friends and family in the Midwest who would also marvel at the beauty along the Blue Lake trail.  And I wasn’t even halfway to Blue Lake!


I smiled and appreciated the opportunity that my family could be here hiking together and adventuring together.  We roamed in nature beyond the reaches of cell phone coverage.  Beyond where I could take a few crappy photos with my phone to share with friends on FB and wait for comments and likes.   Into a place where I not only was forced to just put away technology, but I wanted to put it away.  I wanted to soak in the warmth and beauty of my family and my surroundings.


The sun and heat, the beauty of Blue Lake and the spirit of summer, all begged us to take a dip into the icy waters.  The girls giggling about disrobing to their underwear in public, while I insist it’s all good and strip down to my skives to prove my point.  The chilly waters drawing me in, my adrenaline rises as I stand knee-deep contemplating a hobbled retreat or hasty dive into the cold.  I always choose the hasty dive.  At least once. Usually twice.


We snack, we rest our bodies, we jump in the icy water, we warm our bodies on rocks, we explore the waters edges, we squeeze our dirty, wet feet back into our boots and we prepare to head back down the trail.


And those mountain goats?  Yup, ran across one on the trail during each of our hikes.





Summer 2017

We had an amazing summer!   Really, it was awesome!


We finally were able to buy another mini-van (we sold our last Sienna to pay for our plane tickets to Spain), we put our mail on hold and took off for adventures around Washington state.


We spent most of our days out exploring and our nights were spent in a tent together.  We traveled around 2,000 miles; all within Washington State and concluded that there is SO much more to see and do.



Summer 2017 Timeline:


June 21st – My mother-in-law comes for a visit and stay with us.  I bunk up with the girls while Jeff takes the couch.  We squeeze in strawberry picking, attending end of year school parties, jam making and swimming in the pool.

June 27th – Last day of school for the girls.  FINALLY!

June 30th – Last day of school/work for Jeff.  FINALLY!

July 1st – Mother-in-Law leaves.

July 3rd – July 6th – Annual visit to Inch Acres.  We camp in their backyard, help with farm chores, eat delicious food and spend quality time with our wonderful friends.

July 6th – 9th – Jeff travels to Las Vegas for a friends Birthday Bash.  The girls and I swim in the pool, pick raspberries and get prepared to head out camping.

July 11th – We celebrate Scarlett’s birthday at K1 Speed.

July 12th – Travel 3 hours and 150 miles to North Cascades National Park  and camp at Colonial Creek Campground at Diablo Lake.   Score back country permits to backpack for 4 nights & 5 days on the Thunder Creek trail in North Cascades National Park.

July 13th – July 17th – Backpack the Thunder Creek Trail for a total of 13 miles round-trip with 2 bear sightings.

July 17th – July 20th – Car camp at Colonial Creek Campground .  Planned to spend 1 night here and move on but then the mice moved in and we worked to move them out.

July 18th – Rather than bake a carrot cake we celebrate my dad’s birthday with beer and sleeves of doughnuts.

July 19th – Day hike to Blue Lake.  Amazing views, cold water swim & a mountain goat encounter.

July 20th – July 21st – Travel 40 miles and 1 hour over Washington Pass, hike Cutthroat Lake trail and disperse camp.

July 21st – Travel 65 miles and an hour and a half towards Winthrop, Washington to find a campsite before heading back to Blue Lake to fish as the fishing at Cutthroat Lake was a bust.  When we returned to our campground near dinner time, it was full!  So glad that we decided to not wait to find a spot.

July 21st – July 23rd – Car camp at Klipchuck Campground which was a nice, quiet and cheap campground.

July 22nd – Visited Winthrop, Washington, drank some hard cider and walked the town.  Winthrop used to be an annual trip for us but we haven’t been in years and it was great to be back.

July 23rd – Visit the Winthrop Fish Hatchery and travel 2.5 hours and 115 miles to Leavenworth, Washington in 101 degree heat.  Keep the A/C off, travel with 5+ gallons of water, stop for cold drinks several times and hope we don’t break down.

July 23rd – July 27th -Arrive at Eightmile Campground along Icicle Creek and get lucky enough to snag one of our favorite campsites in the campground.

July 27th – Travel 122 miles & 2.5 hours home.

July 27th – August 3rd – Stay around home, swim in the pool, visit with friends, do laundry, prepare for our next trips and celebrate my 30th birthday,

August 4th – 7th – Travel 82 miles to Lodgepole Campground outside of Mt. Rainier National Park to meet our friends who from Michigan, who flew to Las Vegas and drove to Washington.

August 5th – Visit Mt. Rainier National Park and hike the 5.6 mile Freemont Lookout Trail.

August 6th – Visit the Paradise area of Mt. Rainier National Park.  Hike a to Glacier View, visit Visitor Center and stop by Lake Louise.

August 7th – Travel 164 miles & 3.5 hours with our friends to Sequim Bay State Park.  Pick Lavender in Sequim, play in a river, and watch the sunset in Port Angeles.

August 8th – 104 miles to Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park to play in the Pacific Ocean and then travel down the coast to camp at Kalaloch Campground.

August 9th – Say goodbye to our friends and play as a family on the beaches at Kalaloch before we travel 190 miles & 4 hours home.

August 10th – August 13th – Hang out at home, swim in the pool, relax, play Ninetendo, wash laundry and prepare for our next trip.

August 13th – August 18th – Travel 95 miles & 2.5 hours to meet our friends from Minnesota at Cougar Rock Campground in Mt. Rainier National Park.

August 14th – Hiked 5 miles with our friends from Paradise Visitor Center to Cougar Rock Campground.

August 15th – Jeff & Jacob hike 9 miles with a 4,000 foot elevation gain to Camp Muir.   While Sara, the kids and I, hiked the 5.5 mile, 1,450 elevation gain Skyline Loop Trail.  We used a super cool, composting toilet at 7,000 feet in elevation, saw more than a dozen marmots, a couple of Pika, several waterfalls, and panoramic vistas.

August 16th – Hiked 2.5 miles to swim & picnic at Snow Lake in Mount Rainier National Park.

August 17th – Travel 60 miles over 2 hours together with our friends to visit the Sunrise Visitor Center at Mt. Rainier National Park and to hike the 4 mile, 600 foot elevation gain, Dege Peak trail.

August 18th – Say goodbye to our friends and travel home to wash clothes and prepare for our next adventure.

August 19th – Wash lots of laundry and watch lots of television.  October & Lavender get new haircuts.  Mail out care packages to the girls.

August 20th – Travel 70 miles and 2 hours to drop the girls off at Camp Colman where they attended camp for 6 nights and 7 days.  This was Lavender’s first year, Scarlett’s 3rd and October’s 5th year.  They loved it of course!

August 20th – After dropping the girls at camp, Jeff and I travel 120 miles to Lake Quinault in Olympic National Park and sleep in the back of the van.

August 21st – We pick up our backpacking permits for the Hoh River Trail in Oympic National Park, stop on the side of the road to watch the Solar Eclipse on our way to the trai lhead,  finally begin our 9 mile hike in the heat of the day and collapsed as we reach the campground at the Olympus Guard Station.

August 22nd – Decide to take a zero backpacking day and hike back out the 9 miles tomorrow rather than finish our planned 32 mile hike.

August 23rd – We hiked out 9 miles, had a beer in Forks, Washington and traveled 90 miles to Port Angeles where we drank more beer, ate pizza, attempted to watch the sunset, ate Pho and slept in the back of the van.

August 24th – Traveled 47 miles to Port Townsend.   Visited the Chimacum Farm Stand, and Finn River Cidery before sightseeing and enjoying an evening dockside concert and then traveled 40 miles south along the Hood canal to  Dosewallips River Road where we slept in the back of the van again.

August 25th – Hiked 7.2 miles on the Lena Lake trail and then continued sightseeing and traveling 71 miles south along the Hood Canal until we reached Joemma Beach State Park to camp for the night.

August 26th – Picked up the girls from camp, traveled home, held a closing ceremony and took a surprise visit to Baskin and Robbins.


Stayed tuned for more posts & pictures on all of our summer adventures!  Hey, better late than never.





Our Beach Vacation

We had a great family beach vacation this weekend! It was nice to relax and have our vacation be about spending time together and not on what monuments, palaces, castles, cathedrals, cities or other places on Spain’s must see list.

We returned to a camping resort in Biarritz, France on the Atlantic ocean. I’ve been watching the weather for months and really wanted a sunny, warm weekend we could lounge poolside and hit the nearby beach.

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After having Jeff gone for three of the four weeks in May, I was excited to get away together.

Without having to spend hours planning where to stay and what to visit. Having been there before, we knew where the grocery store was, where the beach was and we knew what to expect.

The only part we didn’t expect was that we now know that Lavender suffers from carsickness.  I could rephrase that and say we ALL suffer from her carsickness.

I had never heard of a camping resort, I assumed it would be something like a KOA.  Small cabins, a pool and some activities that few joined in.  But I was pleasantly surprised on our first visit with a nice little cabin, two pools (an indoor and outdoor), a free kids watch program, a bar with nightly themes and friendly staff that spoke English.

It’s a popular vacation destination so all the signs were in French, Spanish, Basque and English.

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The kids loved the pool, we enjoyed lounging poolside.  The pool was shallow in most places and had two water slides and two waterfalls.  We could grab a drink at the bar easily and have it there or to go.

Jeff and I tried our hand at archery while the kids got their faces painted in kids watch.

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The beach was 10 minutes away and had nice sand.  The girls played in the sand and surf for hours. I enjoyed playing in the surf with October and Scarlett. We all got tossed in the waves more than once.

Realizing that we were at a shirt/bikini top optional beach was amusing.  I leaned over and whispered to Jeff that the woman two towels down was topless. He smiled and told me, “You’re funny.  She’s not the one.”  It was then that I realized that most of the ladies were topless….of all ages.

I lathered up the ladies and joined in. When in France!

Most of the women though only went topless while at their towels, they did not wander the beach topless. There were a few exceptions. Like the woman who came to body surf in the waves next to October and I.

October was a bit surprised when the wave subsided and she saw a topless woman jumping and playing in the same wave as us.

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Back at the pool, the adult women kept their tops on but toddler girls to preteen girls wore only bottoms.  And while I find toddlers in bikinis absolutely adorable; wearing only bottoms makes better sense. Kids play hard and they should have a swimsuit that is functional. An itty bitty bikini on a kid just doesn’t stay in place.

At the resort the girls danced at the bar the first evening and we did karaoke the last.


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We played cards together.

We taught October how to play hearts and Lavender is now old enough to play Uno on her own with us.

We ate Thai food together.

We tired the girls out everyday.

We slept in most days.

We choose spaghetti at the cabin over taking the kids to a nice, French restaurant.

We drank Sangria by the pool.

We played in the water with the kids. Lavender even went down the water slide!

There was a bounce house at the playground for the kids.

We returned to the Caves of Sare to replace a  forgotten souvenir.

It was a great time had by all.

I was sad to leave. I really enjoyed the relaxation, the sand, the beach.

It was a great trip had by all. Now to find my discarded surf shirt before I return to the states.


We did squeeze in a quick return trip to San Sebastian so October could get another pinxto in a seashell. We also returned to Pamplona. This time without the long, wandering, never ending car ride. We drank a beer at Cafe Iruna, one of Hemmingway’s haunts. Walked a portion of the streets where the running of the bulls takes place. Took pictures next to statues of Hemmingway. Tried again the find the Museo de Encierro but again without luck (side note: a quick look on google vs. my Lonely Planet guide says it is permanently closed.  And had ice cream cones in the blistering heat before heading home.

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Birthday Weekend

We celebrated birthday’s last weekend!  My baby, baby, baby girl is now 9 years old!  And my last baby turned 5 years old!  Exciting…but also how did this happen!  October looks so much older in the last year.

To celebrate we went horseback riding, had cake and opened presents.

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Happy Birthday my wonderful, sweet children!

Mud pies and hoping my kids stay young awhile longer

I will be sad when my kids no longer play for hours in the mud, trees and rocks.  I so enjoy sitting near as the use their imaginations to create out of nature.

Today, they worked to weave mats while we sat in the shadow of ruins and watched by cows.

The forest around where we live here in Spain may be the best part of living here.  Now, I know I there are lots of parks and green spaces in Washington.  And we take advantage of those as well.  But, here there’s not also the YMCA or the pool or the beach or the playgrounds or play dates to also occupy our time.

Over the last few weekends we have gone exploring, settled in and had a picnic in the woods.  And almost always, we see very few other people.

We visited a National Park one weekend for an amazing hike.  Sierra de Guadarrama Parque Nacional.  We went 5 miles round trip at an elevation of 6,600 ft.

We’ve been to forest on both sides of the river – although we’re always sharing the space with a cow or two.

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Schooling this past year

While homeschooling in the U.S., I’d often have people comment how how they don’t know how I do it.  In reality, I couldn’t imagine how they did it every day.

Getting up every morning, going through the same routine everyday to get their kids to school by 8am or 9am and then trying to get homework done, extracurricular activities accomplished, family dinner, kids in bed and still have time to spend their spouse.

And I do hate the morning routine of getting the girls to school here in Spain. And, their school doesn’t even start until 9:30am!  A lot has to do with us never establishing a solid routine – in the states I would have created a laminated checklist and bought a timer clock.

Here, I have been repeating the same directions every morning for the last 8 months.

I’m tired of it.  It often ends in yelling.

I get frustrated.  Why, is it not clear that breakfast is not the time to play hide & seek?

It breaks my heart when they beg me to stay home for the day.  It breaks my heart when they ask “can’t I just do my schoolwork with you?” I hate having to decide if they are too sick to go to school for the day.

I hate that my now five-year old groans when I tell her it’s a school day.  School days at our homeschooling center was something that was never groaned at.  In fact, if one of us was too sick, they groaned that they had to miss.

Sending the girls to public school here in Spain was certainly the right thing to do.  They could have never learned the language as quickly from taking classes in the US or even attending a Spanish Immersion program.

October has come SO far in understanding and speaking the language.

Scarlett has made a best friend that she adores.

Lavender understands and responds in Spanish but rarely lets on that she can speak any.

They all have the experience of going almost anywhere in town and knowing other adults and/or children.  The small town has been a very nice change of pace for them.

I would have been even more isolated than I already am if I had tried homeschooling them here as well.

And there are not the educational opportunities here for us to access as in the Seattle area.

For one, we have no car and two, they would all be in Spanish.  No science center workshops or zoo naturalist programs for us.  No large craft store for us to get supplies to make projects.  No wonderful library to check out boat loads of physical books from.  (Digital loans from the King County Library have been great!)

Scarlett went to an overnight camp in November and a burros ride (last week) with her class though!  They participated in a carnival parade through town.  All things we would not have done homeschooling.

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I’ll admit, I expect them to be behind their peers in the States in regards to their  English writing and mathematics.  Lavender can count better in Spanish than English and I haven’t even tried to teach her to read in English yet!  October seems to have lost the mental math gains she had from her Singapore Math curriculum and now only uses math equations.

I hope they will be ahead in their ability to try new experiences, having faith in their ability to face unknown and their overall belief in themselves.  I mean, if you can walk into a place where you don’t know the language, the routines or anyone else …. you can do anything!

But I really enjoyed homeschooling the girls.  It wasn’t easy but I preferred it to any job I had ever had.  I miss it.

I really miss learning with my kids on a daily basis.  I miss teaching them.   I miss the connection we established.  I miss having fun ways to interact with them – read alouds, craft projects, schooling projects, documentaries, science centers, museums, etc.

I still have the same “business” to attend to with them.  Dressing, feeding, washing, cleaning, etc. but now I have less time to accomplish these in.  It leaves little room for more fun activities like playing a game, going for a longer walk or long read-alouds.

But most of all, I miss the rhythm we had established.  I am less connected to my kids now.  And I don’t like it.

Right now, for me, I feel like I have too few positive, fun interactions with my kids.

I know that a big part of this is me and the rhythm I’ve established.  I got used to having a quiet home and retreating into my own little computer generated world.  Breaking free into a noisy, messy household is difficult.  Life here has been difficult for me.

When I am able to get ahead of feeding and cleaning and we can spend most of the lunch siesta reading together or creating together…I feel great.  I rented a car one weekend and we went on an amazing hike together!

I’ve become unaccustomed to the whining and bickering of the kids.  Maybe they just got older and into a new phase of sibling rivalry.  Maybe, they are no longer in the rhythm of spending the entire day interacting together.

Regardless, the arguing and bickering is driving me completely bonkers!

And maybe, they got accustomed to needing to be loud to be heard in their classrooms.  Maybe, they got accustomed to the norm of questioning the directions of their teachers or the negotiating every request with them.

Maybe, they got accustomed to having more children than adults to be influenced by (the numbers are pretty close in a homeschooling center!)

One of the biggest reasons to my ever wanting to homeschool was that I wanted more time for our family to spend together; for us not to be splinted out by age into our own little worlds.  For us to build strong relationships within our family unit.

Coming here and not having them attend the public school would have been a mistake.  But I miss homeschooling.

I’m not sure what the fall will hold for us when we return.  There is a strong possibility (and a strong hope) that October will get into the public Spanish Immersion school back in the states. There is also the possibility that some the girls will be homeschooled and others not.

And while I am concerned that my feeling of disconnectedness will continue, I have faith that by being active, being involved and being connected  that my concerns will not be realized.

We will resume going to science centers, museums, libraries and parks regardless of the kids schooling.   And with the girls getting older, we will have even more opportunities to participate in activities as a family.

I’m looking forward to it!






On Appreciating what we have

I understand the desire to WANT things.  I “window shop” online for clothes and bathing suits when I’m bored or when I’m longing for something new.

I rarely make a purchase.

And I am excited to get back and buy everyone (including myself) new socks and underwear.  I picture myself sitting poolside in a new bathing suit.  I have several on my “wish list.”

I am looking forward to thrift shopping for new clothes for myself.  For everyone, really.  We are stepping back and moving away from new; second-hand is better in so many ways.

I don’t feel like my anticipation or my “window shopping” has or is consuming me.  And I recognize the folly in wanting versus needing.  This past year has been about fulfilling needs each person has in regards to clothes or shoes.  Not wants.

The kids clothes have holes I have attempted to sew.  Shoes have holes in them (a few new ones have been purchased).   I can’t tell you about the state of our “unmentionables”.

I basically packed each person to have two weeks worth of clothes.  Plus, some warm weather and cool weather clothes.  Wearing the same two weeks worth of clothes for the entire school year has taken its toll on the clothes we brought with us.

Few items will make the return trip.

We brought Lego’s for the kids and they each brought one quart-sized ziplock bag of miscellaneous toys. This has been a stark contrast to the overwhelming number of toys they had in Washington.

And I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

They’ve made a doll house from a cardboard box.  Spent days playing with window clings.  Created with recycling materials.  Drawn magical landscapes on paper for their trading-card magnets.

It’s has been wonderful.

Holidays have also been sparse in terms of gifts and in fulfilling wants.  The Easter Bunny and Santa brought the few toys they have gotten while here in Spain.  We have fulfilled the needs and provided experiences.  Santa brought the playdough.

But as we near the end of living abroad experience, we each are suffering from homesickness.  I have great empathy for the kids.  I understand.  I’m homesick as well.  I would love to go to Costco or Target and get everything I need (want??) in one place.

Last week, the kids were feeling down.  They were tired of the toys they had.  And I empathized.

I suggested “window shopping” at for Lego’s.  I suggested them making a wish list.  I thought it would fill the homesickness/longing void as it had for me.

Except they are children.  Everything to them is a need, not a want.  They weren’t able to be satisfied with “window shopping” as I had been.

Needless to say one thing led to another and pennies were being counted and new Lego’s were on their way.  I had hoped a few new sets of Lego’s would fill the gap between now and when we leave in less than 60 days.

It hasn’t.  It’s been the exact opposite.

Fulfilling a few wants has fueled more wants.

And while I so enjoy watching their happy faces at getting a new package and how I love watching them spend hours focused at putting Lego’s together (which I firmly believe is a life skill for when they have to put together their IKEA furniture), I am sorry I ever let them “window shop.”

Everyday now is counting money, asking which stores in town are open and sell toys (few) and negotiating with me on purchasing more Lego’s online.

We’ve worked so hard to emphasize living with what we have.  Living with what we need.  Living to have experiences.

And we’ve lived with holes in our underwear, holes in our shoes and holes in our pants.  I’ve lived with 5 plates, 5 bowls, 3 pans and no microwave.  I’ve lived with no phoning it in to “Papa Johns” when I couldn’t think or contemplate yet another meal to make.

We’ve survived the winter, wearing nearly every piece of clothing each of us owned.  We survived (and thrived) cuddling together watching Netflix and learning to crochet over cold winter months.

Yet, in those few minutes of weakness (and empathy) that I suggested my children “window shop” I seem to have unraveled the entire fabric we’ve created over this last year.

The two hours of window shopping, countless hours anticipating their package and the four hours of assembling their new Lego’s wasn’t worth the erosion of the experience/needs based values we had worked so hard to build upon this last year.

Somehow, I thought there would be a happier ending.  Appreciating new toys.  Appreciating the anticipation and savoring the new toys.

After so many months with living with what we had, I expected less want and more appreciation on receiving new toys.

Lesson learned.

Poisonous Caterpillars????

As every Spanish child knows, don’t even think about handling the hairy caterpillars of the pine processionary moth ( procesionarias in Spanish).

Quoted from The Grapevine Magazine.



But my children aren’t Spanish children.  We didn’t know to avoid them.

Not until Lavender took the little cute caterpillar in hand to show her friend.

To which the mother came quickly over to us, told us to put the caterpillars down and immediately go wash our hands (all in Spanish but I got the basic idea).  When Lavender didn’t immediately put the caterpillar down, the mother shook it from her hand.

I said thank-you and off we went home to wash our hands.  October commented on how embarrassing that was and how that mom shouldn’t have shook Lavender’s hand.  I didn’t even notice that part.

Embarrassing, I agree.

Back home in the states, the girls routinely picked up tent caterpillars and collected them while we were at the park. They make little “homes” for them. They pet them.  They let them crawl on their shirt and on their hands.

And since those in the states are considered a nuisance, I don’t give it much thought if the caterpillar finds his final resting place in the “home” my kids have created for them.

BUT, we have learned our lesson.  You should not pick up random bugs or caterpillars you find in the forest or on the sidewalk.  At least not in Spain.

It was on Wednesday as we were walking home from school, I saw a string of caterpillars traveling butt to nose along the sidewalk.  I pointed them out to the girls to have a look.

They of course wanted to move them from the sidewalk so they wouldn’t get stepped on.  We stopped and I let them move the caterpillars.  All ten of them.  October put one on Lavender’s shirt.  Scarlett let one crawl all around her hand.  The caterpillars would curl into a ball, fall to the ground and the girls would pick them back up.

It was at this point that Lavender picked one up to show her friend and the mother told us not to and wash our hands immediately.  October & I were embarrassed.  Scarlett wanted to know why we shouldn’t touch them.

Of course, I didn’t know.  And like with anything you don’t know – I googled it!

The results were shocking and concerning.

I started to freak out!

Because here are the headlines that popped up when I googled “caterpillars in spain”:


I took the girls back to the bathroom and scrubbed their hands with a kitchen sponge.  I changed their clothes.  I gave each of them Benadryl.

And I went back to searching the internet for symptoms and treatments not just warnings.  Which there were a lot of.  The lack of information on what to do if you should touch them was alarming.

The reactions in humans of touching the caterpillars or inhaling their hairs ranged from an itchy rash that lasted up to 3 weeks to anaphylactic shock.

I could feel my own tongue, eyes and hands swelling.  I popped a benedryl myself; even though I did not touch them.  I was near them!  I held Scarlett’s hand!

These websites were warning folks to be careful of even standing under pine trees between February and April. They recommended always carrying an anti-histamine with you in the forest.

My kids were playing with them!

I know my swelling hands and eyes were psychological but I was freaking out.  I took a shower and stopped scouring the internet.  (The last story I read was of the toddler that died after one fell in his mouth while sleeping under a pine tree).

We have been picnicing in the forest; under pine trees!!!

We made the girls stay in the living room with us and watch movies.  We didn’t take them back to school.  They didn’t go to gymnastics (it’s further away from urgent care).  We stayed on the couches together until bedtime.

Jeff & I got up throughout the night to make sure they were okay.

October ended up with some itchy, irritated hands and Scarlett has a small rash on her cheeks, neck and shoulders (both her neck and shoulder were covered by her clothing) that is slightly itchy.  Lavender is fine.

My adrenaline has returned to normal; although I feel like an idiot.

I’m grateful to the mother who came to tell us.  We would have likely stayed playing with the caterpillars and I would have never given them Benadryl or been on alert for any reactions.

I’m glad we were in town and not out in the forest where no one would have seen us playing with them.

In a twist of irony, the photo’s at the top of this post were taken by Jeff nearly a week before this incident occurred.  He had found these processionary caterpillars in the forest while walking with Lavender.  He didn’t let her touch them – he thought their behavior odd.  He meant to tell me about them and look them up himself.  Instead, we spent the day cuddled up with our kids; on high alert to any sign that we should rush them into urgent care.

Processionary Caterpillar Rash






The experience of living abroad has been a positive experience.  One that I would and hopefully will seek out again.

One that I believe has been great for my children.

When I speak with people here I am often asked if we had been placed in a big city like Madrid rather than a small, rural community if I thought my exchange program experience would have been better.

Some facets of daily life certainly would have been an improvement for me but those same facets would have been a detriment to my kids Spanish experience.

October Fresh Baked Bread

It was a big change for all us coming here.  For me, I went from homeschooling three kids all day and then leaving for work in the evenings.  I had play dates, field trips, Girl Scouts, school classes, exercise classes and a community of friends that filled my day.

I also had tasty take-out, a fully stocked big chain store, and a car we had fondly named “Sally”.  I do miss Sally.

Being here in a small town without a job or homeschooling, field trips, classes and kids to fill my day was a BIG transition.

A very lonely experience.  An experience that would have most likely been vastly different if I was in a big city.

Sshhh……I think maybe I like being in a small community!!

I’ve experienced life here.  And I can imagine life here….with a car and language acquisition.

Buitrago Collage

Last summer when we could only imagine our life abroad, I looked forward to walking more and eating more fresh foods.  And these two experiences alone have been so positive it will influence where I will choose to live in the future.

I have never eaten as healthy as I have here.  There are lots of fresh food options that are inexpensive in comparison to the U.S.  Fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, seafood and bread are all readily available.

There is also not food coloring additives nor nearly the number of junk food items in the store.

When I want a chocolate fix; a GOOD chocolate fix; I am forced to make my own chocolate chip cookies.

The inexpensive wine and booze are another story!

Back home the girls couldn’t go into a store on their own; let alone walk there on their own.  Here the girls have had the opportunity to go into stores on their own to make purchases.  We have sent them to get cilantro, bread, orange juice, etc.

They absolutely LOVE the opportunity and freedom to go to the store themselves.  (I remember going around the block to buy cigarette’s for my Grandma when I was a kid!  She’s send me with a note and cash and back I’d come with her goods!)

This would NEVER happen if we were in a big city.

I feel safe letting them go on their own.  Plus, from our apartment I can spy on them most of the time they are gone and I know that the store owners know who they are.

Ali's Fruit market

Scarlett's Cilantro

Another freedom that will be revoked when we return to the states is their ability to stay home alone.  Yes, I said it.  Sometimes we leave the kids at home watching a movie or playing Lego’s while we go grocery shopping or **GASP** out for a drink!

Grocery shopping, having a drink with friends or by ourselves while our kids are at home is a very new experience for us.  It’s a little bit of wonderful!

I will disclose that when we do have a drink out, the kids know where we are and even will run between our home and the bar to come check in with us.  There are two bars very close.  Neither require a street crossing.

You, yes you, in the states….CAN YOU IMAGINE!!??!!??

Jeff Jo at bar

In the states, the girls attended a homeschool program that was outside of our local district.  Still close, but not so much that we would often run into families we knew while walking around town, at the library or out on a hike.

We had begun to build a community with the Coal Creek YMCA.  We would run into other families from the Y in all sorts of places while we were out and about.  But, we also had begun to recognize those from my work or the Issaquah library or Parks & Rec classes.

But because the girls did not attend their neighborhood school we weren’t recognized as we walked around the neighborhood.  And to be honest, we lived in a large area.  There are 3 “neighborhood” schools within two miles of our house.

Here, we are well known in town.  The girls often have friends run over to them to say “hi” while we are walking to the grocery store or out for a stroll.  I think the sense of community they are experiencing here is a welcome change for them.

Admittedly, it can be odd as well.

Participating in celebrations on a smaller scale has been nice as well.  The girls Carnival celebration went through the streets and the Three Kings Festival was a manageable crowd.

The outdoors is the piece I appreciate the most being here in a small, rural town.  When the weather has been nice, I often go for a run after dropping the kids off at school.  There is beautiful scenery and a seemingly unending forest.

It feels so relaxing.

For the kids, the forest has been a great place to play and explore.  We have carved our own little spot in the forest and call it the fort.  The girls have tried to make a fort here and I’ve gathered rocks to weight lift with.

It’s really a nice quiet place in the forest.  The walk there is 20 minutes and we rarely see other people out there either.

Natural Area Buitrago Collage


Outside of our town, I have enjoyed the opportunity to travel.  To see new places and historic places.  We have all learned and appreciated our travels.  I hope our kids forever remember these experiences.

Through living abroad together we have learned to:

  • Explore together as a family.
  • Have more patience.
  • Have more flexibility.
  • Try new foods.
  • Be more independent.
  • Live with what we have.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Be courageous and brave.
  • Be more understanding.
  • Communicate despite language barriers.
  • Speak some Spanish (some of us more so than others).
  • Cuddle more.
  • Live together as a family better.

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