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Temple of Heaven, Beijing

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Yesterday Lauren and I visited the Temple of Heaven, which is in the southeastern part of Beijing, called Dongcheng. The complex consists of many temples arranged in three main groups, and the first we saw was for sacrificing animals, and was built in 1420.

Animals were slaughtered and burned as sacrifice to Shangdi, the Supreme Deity.

Six of these large bowls were used for burning the sacrifices in – a practice called Border Sacrifice which ended in 1911.

All the buildings in the complex were intricately painted and well maintained as a sacred place for Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties to come annually and offer prayer to Heaven for good harvest.

Long hallways and grounds covering 1.05 square miles lead to the various temples.

It was interesting that sitting on the railings in one of these hallways in particular, were hundreds of people gambling.

Many of the people were quite animated as they played.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a triple gabled circular building, and is where the Emperor prayed. The building is wooden with no nails

The interiors of all these buildings are very simple.

Further hallways led to the Imperial Vault of Heaven.

The building is built on marble. Number nine is a sacred number and many balusters, carvings, altars and pillars are arranged in series of nine.

Beautiful giant red doors stand tall at many of the entry and exit points between buildings.

An interesting area was called the Echo Wall, which is an area that was supposed to help the prayers communicate with Heaven through resonating against guardrails.

Red and yellow are significant in the Chinese culture. Red is the symbol of prosperity and represents good luck, joy and happiness. (Not to be worn to Chinese funerals). Yellow, or gold, is considered the most beautiful color and is used for Royalty and is reserved for the Emperor.

These two colors are seen everywhere on the temple grounds.

Green represents money and wealth.

I look forward to visiting more historical places here in Beijing. This place is overflowing with them! We did finally see something other than man made materials – a grove of trees…
I breathed deep, filled my nature craving bank, and enjoyed the site.

Istanbul, Turkey

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I started working on my Bachelors degree recently in Wildlife Conservation with an emphasis in Marine Conservation. It’s taken a minute to get my brain back in school mode and I think I’m finally back on my game. One of my other passions, of course, is writing, and I have some catching up to do before I tuck the Adventures of a Tribe blog into bed and begin the new blog on Danny’s and my travels. So bare with me for a few more of these, beginning with Istanbul, Turkey!

Our first few days were wet but picturesque nonetheless. Just like in Switzerland and Greece, I was instantly swept off my feet and fell in love with the sites, smells and people. With an umbrella in hand, I venture out and explored the streets close to the area we stayed, and soon found myself ankle deep in streams of water running down the steep winding roads…but it was worth it.

I love to wander through neighborhoods and down alley ways, to get a feel of how people really live away from the tourist traps, restaurants and markets, and what I found in Istanbul, were people always quick to smile, who were honest and hard working.

Ninety-nine percent of Istanbul’s population of 15 million, are Muslim and 2-300 000 are Christian.
As I walked the tiny streets, I saw many rooms in basements with bright lights overhead, where women sat sewing hijabs and dresses.

Around each corner was yet another steep road and I felt like I finally found that place grandparents talk about, where you walk uphill both ways!

While out exploring I found Danny some delicious peanuts covered in chocolate and then dipped in a thin layer of sugar like on a Jordan Almond. They were all green in color and the chocolate was soft and fresh.
After our lazy rainy day we ventured out further into the city where blue skies greeted us as well as all the fascinating buildings, people and foods that Istanbul has to offer.

Our first stop was The Grand Bazaar and Spice Markets….one of the oldest covered markets in the world.

Try to imagine over 60 covered streets hosting 4000 shops overflowing with smells and sights that excite and overwhelm all your senses all at once, and you never want to leave because you know you want to see every square inch of it and there’s just not enough time left in your life to complete it all! It’s a problem.

Every kind of tea you can imagine, displayed so beautifully that you want to buy it just to look at it – forget boiling the kettle.

And then there’s nuts…some wrapped in dates, some clustered together in delicious balls, assortments of chocolate and salty and slightly sweet, and some dipped in something you can’t identify but its your new favorite taste, and every vendor is force feeding you samples and you just can’t say no!

Turkish delight in every flavor you could ever imagine and better than anything they have in Narnia, and yes, they are feeding you samples of that too!…All I could think of is that my mother would founder on the rose flavored ones!

And there there’s the rolls…somebody came up with the idea of rolling the whole Grand Bazaar up into one giant delicious mouthful, and Bob’s your Uncle…they sell it in rolls. Some are nutty, some are sweet, some are both and all the rest of the flavors too. It all works and is unforgettable.

Just when you think your belly is going to explode you breathe a sign of relief because you come across a place that doesn’t have food, but instead it’s filled with natural loofah and sponges. A fascinating sight to see.

After that your nostrils are hit with ten tons of spices. Bags, barrels and bunches all beautifully displayed, and I picture myself buying overflowing sacks of nigella seed and sumac even though I don’t know what it is, but I’m a better cook already just for owning it.

Suddenly your eye catches a stall with large bags of freshly roasted coffee beans and you’re so tempted to bury your face in one just to clear your sinuses to push a reset button in your head…kinda like sniffing coffee in between sniffs at the perfume counter.

You realize it wouldn’t help though, because right next door the Pastry God is baking up a storm!

Crisp buttery layers of Baklava, Kadayıf and Revani greet you with dollops of Kaymak (clotted cream) and apricot puree. Bowls of Asure, otherwise known as ’Noah’s Pudding’ (because when Noah survived the flood he made a pudding with everything he had left on board), accompanied by fresh fig and hazelnut, displayed next to the Tavukgogosu (like rice pudding), all steamy and warm.

Just when you feel like you’re going to slip away into a diabetic coma, have no fear because they’ve got your back…with more bounteous buckets of every shape, size and color of all the plump fresh olives you’ve ever imagined.

But that’s not all folks, because Mr Cheese man is right next door, ready to compliment your olives with cheese straight from Heaven and you know you can’t resist!

I have no recollection of how much time passed but I know we eventually found our way out of that place, crawling Gi Joe style out through the escape door and to our hotel where we felt like we had to go into hibernation for a solid five months. But, we didn’t, this was just day one of exploring Istanbul…there’s more to follow folks, and I’ve lived to tell the tale!

Family in Epidavros, Greece

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Danny’s dad is a dark curly haired handsome Greek with beautiful brown eyes, gorgeous olive skin and dashing smile. It’s where we get the last name Govatos from, and we are very proud of it. We made contact with our family that lives in Epidavros, which is located in the eastern part of Argoils Peninsula. Our drive over from Athens was absolutely gorgeous.

Olive, almond and fig trees dot the landscape everywhere, mixed with pine, pomegranate and jacaranda, and the Aegean Sea is an inviting blue the color of peace. We passed several fish farms, where sea bass and sea bream, are farmed.

We passed by Old Epidavros, which was a scene that will never leave my mind – sailboats in the bay and a quiet town nestled in the olive trees.

Kathy and Richard are some of the biggest hearted, generous, beautiful people I know, and we had so much fun spending time with them.

They live in a beautiful home with a breathtaking view of citrus orchids, olive trees, the quaint town of New Epidavros down in the valley, with the Aegean Sea and Greek Isles as a backdrop.

When we awoke from an amazing nights sleep in a beautiful suite in their home, we were greeted by Kathy with home made coffee cake, greek yoghurt with honey and delicious juices. Richard took us out to the back yard to pick fresh purple figs, which were standing healthy and tall amidst olive trees and grape vines. Heaven on earth! The figs were sweeter than any I’ve tasted!

We drove to the Epidaurus Ancient Theater, where in the 4th Century, 34 rows were built to seat admirers of dramatic performances.

In Roman times, another 21 rows were added, making it possible for 14000 people to be seated.

As we walked the rows and sat on the seats, Danny and I imagined the people, their clothing, voices and performances – all there right where we sat. What incredible history!

Large rectangular arches mark the entrance and exits, and in the center of the arena, a gentleman stood and sang opera just to see and feel what it would have been like all those years ago. It sounded beautiful and was easy to see why this theater was admired so much for its acoustics. The view and breeze up high was wonderful.

We sat and quietly chatted, trying to absorb it all, then continued in to the museum close by.

Several statues and sculptures lined the walls, including remnants of columns and artifacts.

Our next stop was Napflia, which according to mythology, is a beautiful little town founded by Napflios, the son of Poseidon and the daughter of Danaus Anymone.

Not far off shore is Bourtzi, a picturesque Venetian fortress that was at one point connected to the main palace by a huge metal chain, which secured the fort against enemy ships.

The view of Napflia can be seen from high roads that reach beautiful towers,

and looking over into the bay on the backside of the peninsula, more beautiful shoreline continues on for miles.

The town of Napflia is gorgeous, with old buildings overflowing with character and the smell of delicious foods in the air. Together we enjoyed a meal from heaven, overlooking the inviting clear waters.

There’s never enough time to spend with family, and it was difficult to say ‘see you later’ to Kathy and Richard. But, we’ll be back for sure, and when we return, we know that view will still be there, and more importantly, those wonderful warm hugs.

The Acropolis

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The Acropolis eclipses all else, demanding complete attention as it monopolizes the hill of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

A winding rock path of well worn slippery marble meanders up a hill through olive trees and dry dirt, and a sense of reverence and awe hangs heavily in the air.

The first structure we encountered was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Philosopher, Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes built it as a memorial for his wife in 160 AD. The 3 stories of arches, windows and columns are incredibly beautiful, with Athens as a spectacular backdrop, and the theater can seat about 5000 people.

Farther up the winding path, are stairs and more stairs that lead to several impressive ancient structures including the Parthenon.

The Parthenon is massive (101ft wide and 228ft long), and was designed in an incredibly genius way: Tilting each column 6 cm inward, which causes it to look even more grand than it already is!

While walking the grounds, it was interesting to imagine what it would have been like in 438 BC when it was built. The back breaking, finger smashing, sweat pouring grunts and groans that went into day after day for nine years.

The Erectheion, Temple of Athena Nike, The Propylaea and several other structures are also at the Acropolis.

Acropolis means ‘summit of the city’, and due to it’s setting up on the highest hill, it was considered the perfect location for safety.

It was believed that Poseidon struck the rock of the Acropolis with his trident, and water appeared, streaming out to provide water for the people in the city, and that a horse leaped out from the point where the trident struck. Athena then responded by striking a nearby rock with her spear, and an olive tree sprouted from the ground. The olive would later become a source of wealth for Attica.

It was judged that Athena, who is the Goddess of wisdom and courage, won the contest between the two, and she became the protector of the city.

The cities name was changed from Kekropia to Athina to honor her.

Incredible work continues to be done to preserve these amazing monuments as three main focuses are constantly monitors and worked on: Mechanical damage, caused by earthquakes, explosions, fires, and freezing; Chemical damage, a result of acid rain and air pollution which has eroded the marble; and Biological damage, caused by plant roots, molds, and bird dropping etc.

It makes me happy to know that each day as we are busy with our lives – running errands, working on projects, meeting with loved ones, the Acropolis is still there – being restored, cherished and admired, and we can always come bak and once again feel the beautiful energy.

Temple of Poseidon

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Greece is incredibly striking due to the contrast between desert and the beautiful clear waters of the Aegean Sea.

Our friends, Alex and Jen, were kind enough to let us stay with them in Athens, and during that time, one of the places we explored was the Temple of Poseidon. On our way there we drove along the coastline and came to a gorgeous beach. The water was calm and cool and a perfect breeze dried the perspiration on our faces. We watched as elderly people made their way into the water on a lift that gently slid them into the turquoise Aegean Sea.

We knew we wanted to swim at some point but decided that it’d be best to wait till after walking around the Temple of Poseidon, but I did want to stroll the shore just for a second first. Perfect smooth pebbles in a variety of colors, littered the shore, and the water felt so wonderful on my legs. I wandered past where people were swimming and once secluded, stripped down to my underwear and plunged in. I simply couldn’t resist! Danny commented that he knew all along that I wouldn’t be able to as he smiled at the wet patches seeping through my clothes.

Many ruins still stand tall across the country side, keeping the rich feeling of history, sacrifice and hard work, in the forefront.

The Temple of Poseidon is on a hill overlooking the Cape of Sounion, and was considered a sacred area dating back to the Bronze Age, but the structure was built between 444 and 440 BC.

The large marble columns are about 20 ft tall and 3 ft in diameter, and the entire structure is approximately 90ft X 40ft. It is difficult to imagine the amount of work that went into cutting away and forming each of the huge blocks that are stacked as foundation as well as walls around the grounds, and the detailed carving on each column.

The view from the temple is exquisite. The deep blue of the Aegean Sea surrounds two thirds of hill, and the town of Sounion lays peacefully at its base.

After hiking around and admiring the temple, Danny and I walked down to a little restaurant below, and enjoyed a simple yet incredible meal of freshly baked bread, mounds of tzatziki and bowls of blood red tomato, thinly sliced green bell pepper and purple onion, kalamata olives and a fat slab of fresh feta.

The view from our comfortable seats in the shade were of the Temple of Poseidon, and I could just imagine the Greek God and his brother Zeus, wrestling in the surf , breaking boulders and shifting dirt, creating the beautiful alcoves we admired as we drove in.

Luzern, Switzerland

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The craziest thing happened! Without knowing, my wonderful friend Elayne, traveled to Zurich within just a few hours of Danny and I. She didn’t know – we didn’t know, and we hadn’t seen each other in five years.

So, we found each other, finally met her wonderful sweetheart, Eric, and spent the day exploring Luzern (AKA Lucerne), which is a 45 minute drive from Zurich.

Luzern is the most populous town in central Switzerland, and is so picturesque on the Reuss River. One of it’s famous landmarks is Chapel Bridge, which was built in the 14th century.

Part of the bridge, is an octagonal 113ft tall Wasserturm, which translates to water tower. The tower existed about 30 years before the bridge did, and has been used as a prison, torture chamber, and municipal archive as well as a local treasury.

The beautiful bridge Kapellbrucke, is a footbridge that spans the Reuss River, overflowing with red geraniums, and was named the Chapel Bridge because St Peter’s Chapel is on the river close to it.

In the distance behind Luzern Jesuit Church, is Mount Pilatus which is part of the Swiss Alps.

Construction of the baroque Jesuit Church began in 1667, and was consecrated in 1677, though some parts of the interior were not completed yet. Upon entering the front doors we became speechless, as our minds and vision were whisk away by angelic choirs and intricate art.

Rich milk chocolate wood pews neatly lined the floor and various shades of peach paint rose up from floor to ceiling in breathtaking detail, accented with gold.

Every inch of every detail molded, filed and painted to perfection, and brilliant chandeliers illuminate each masterpiece as if each were the only treasure.

Our eyes were drawn heavenward and found above us a ceiling covered in perfectly framed murals – each containing detail and color of scenes like the Glory of Saint Francis Xavier, who was a patron of Luzern’s Jesuit Church.

Marble side altars – each a perfect work of art, are displayed within each of the arches on either side of the main chapel.

The streets and alleys of Luzern are also works of art. Lush ivy and cobblestone streets frame each scene.

Incredible rich paintings decorate the exterior walls of already amazing architecture – an overwhelming buffet of color and texture creating a mood of reverence even in the streets.

Many of these beautiful buildings have quaint restaurants beneath them, serving nothing but deliciousness like fondu, baguettes, hundreds of cheeses, Raclette and Älplermagronen, accompanied by fines wines and freshly brewed beers.

Clock towers, hotels that look like castles and ancient steeples add to the romance,

each with their own perfect door and threshold.

Our day in Luzern is one that will be fondly remembered and spoken about years from now…and one day, we will bring our grandchildren and walk the same cobbled streets and they will feel the beauty and be left standing in awe, too.

Switzerland countryside

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Remember the scene in Mary Poppins where she jumps into a painting and is instantly immerse in a magical scene…well, the countryside in Switzerland, actually everywhere in Switzerland, feels that way. Everywhere you look is beautiful. Greens are greener, the sky has more character, flowers are fuller, and crops growing are large and healthy. It’s jaw dropping. Overwhelming. Breathtaking.

Danny and I went for a drive just a few miles out of picturesque Zurich, and found ourselves in a the countryside. Most of the fields were so lush it just seemed unreal! Old farm houses were like those from picture books with splashes of color in every scene.

Beautiful homes with bulging window boxes filled with geranium, sweet potato vines and aster, complete each glance in a thousand directions, so magically.

Tiny villages dot the landscape, each with their own history of families living and working together to create their bliss.

Churches with beautiful steeples stand proud and tall, holding within them memories of beautiful brides, grand sermons and weeping mothers.

Even a lonesome weathered cross seemed perfectly placed…the spot where a loved one lays overlooking the endless beauty.

Though three quarters of cultivated areas are flowing with thick meadows and pasture, sugar beets, wheat, apples, grapes, carrots and potatoes are the main crops of Switzerland. Like patchwork quilts, we looked over fields of varying color and texture of leafy greens and onions.

Just around the bend we were met by a thick grove of hornbeam trees, forming an irresistible tunnel leading to a perfect light.

The feeling of peace in the woods was overwhelming, and just when we emerged on the other side feeling like our surroundings couldn’t be any more peaceful or beautiful, a farm immersed in flowers lay before us.

Endless rows of gladiolus reached heavenward like a rainbow of angels, and sunflowers gathered in a congregation of yellow heads humbly watching their sermon from the sun.

Switzerland is a spiritual experience. Its the whole meal including appetizers, drinks and a delicious dessert. I love this place. Where else, does a bicycle leaning up against a home complete an already perfect picture?

Zurich, Switzerland

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Not even 48 hours before leaving for Switzerland, did I know I was going. Danny received a last minute email requesting he fly the BBJ to Switzerland for maintenance, so he booked me a ticket to meet him, and the two of us are celebrating our birthdays a month early by exploring this beautiful country, and then flying on to Greece to explore it too.

Zurich is so picturesque! Every street we wander down, is overflowing with beautiful architecture,

perfectly placed window boxes and cascading vines,

Incredible exterior paint jobs…

and perfect attention to detail around every corner.

I have fallen in love with Switzerland. I love the vibe, the history and the people, and everything makes sense and is peaceful and relaxed.

Zurich is a global center for banking and finance and is sprawled out along the Limmat River.

It was settled over 2000 years ago by the Romans, who named it Turicum, but some settlements in the are date back over 6400 years.

German is the official language of Switzerland but the main language spoken is a variant of an Alemannic Swiss German dialect.

We walked the streets admiring quaint alley ways,

Bookstores that looked like they had been in business for centuries,

and enjoyed brat with delicious fresh bread and mustard. For dinner we feasted on fondu.

I feel so at home here as I walk through places where just maybe, some of my ancestors walked before crossing the ocean to Africa in 1652.

I told Danny I just want to stay. Live in the country and have a cow for fresh milk. Make my own cheese and butter, sew quilts, bake breads and grow vegetables, and go on a photo expedition every day!

It’s comforting to know that no matter how crazy things get in the world, there are still calm, peaceful places like this existence…

There’s an App for that!

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There’s an small price to pay for living on an Island that is so green and lush with gorgeous vegetation. Rain…and it’s ok with me, because I love the rain.

Umbrellas are a big thing here. When it’s sunny, people carry them to protect their skin from the sun, and when it rains, EVERYONE keeps dry with an umbrella. Aside from our giant size compared to short, petite Chinese bodies, we stand out like sore thumbs because we love to walk in the rain and get wet. At first I thought, wow, these people are so prepared! They have a sixth sense of when it’s going to rain and happen to carry their umbrellas with them…and then I saw them…

Umbrella dispensers! You forgot your umbrella today? It’s ok, there’s an app for that! Scan your phone and Bob’s your uncle!

Malls are everywhere here in China. Every mall has many floors and each floor is specific to either adult clothing, shoes, children’s clothing, specialty stores like make up or skin products or medical practices or spas, and finally, a floor for the eating establishments. What ever it is you’d like to purchase, no cash needed…there’s an app for that!

How about if you’re thirsty for freshly squeezed orange juice…just scan your phone…(yes those are fresh oranges that get juiced right before your eyes!)

How about picking up mail? You receive a message on your phone, go to the location and scan the app, and open sesame!

Even the little toy and candy dispensers require the scan of an app to deliver the goods!

Taxi’s are ordered, bills are payed, appointments are booked, food is ordered, goods are purchased, bicycles are rented, flights and trains are scheduled and contact is made through various apps. Living here we are finding that everything is calculated, organized and orderly. Even communication is short or abrupt with no frills like the word, ‘please’, and as I’ve walked the streets and kindly smiled at people who stop and stare at our towering bodies and odd jabber, and I smile and great them in Chinese, ninety percent of the time their look of disbelief widens, their silent stare continues, and we walk on.

Don’t get me wrong, we are enjoying it here, and are fascinated by the Chinese culture. We love the way that every so often at construction sites, water sprays out in a fine mist to keep the tidy, enclosed sites from being a dusty mess.

We find it curious the way we are often offered a glass of hot water to drink when we enter a store to look around. Ice water seems to be undesirable, and even the drinks in the convenient store coolers are just slightly cooler than room temperature. Water from the faucet cannot be drunken because of the presence of cyanide, so we purchased large jugs of purified water.

Every few days or so, someone will surprise us and all of a sudden excitedly wave or raise a high five and say “Hello!” In a happy voice, and we respond with equal enthusiasm, and I often wonder what makes the difference. Why are the tiny handful of locals so much friendlier than others? Regardless of their reasons, we are grateful, and make a mental note to always be friendly and kind to foreigners when we are in our home country. It makes a big difference.

Another beautiful day comes to a close and we feel so privileged and grateful for the opportunity to explore more of the world. Though our family seems so very far away sometimes, the world really is a small place, and we cherish each new experience and embrace each new culture – learning as much as we can and acknowledging that regardless of race and country, we are all doing the best that we can.

Feeling grounded

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When I am surrounded by nature, I feel peace. It all makes sense to me, and I am able to think clearly and creatively and feel happy and alive.

Yesterday, I had a meltdown. A full blown Belinda dissolves into an ugly puddle, meltdown. I felt overwhelmed, claustrophobic in my head and distant from anything that made sense. After a good cry, I dragged my pathetic self to Danny, who was trying to give me space, and poured our my jumbled mess of nonsensical sorrows to him, wanting him to solve it all but not wanting a single word of advice (I know…it makes no sense), and he said to me, you need to walk in the dirt with your shoes off so you can feel grounded again.

And so I did.
The airbnb we are staying in, is on the 11th floor of a building next to a large shopping mall. We are surrounded by concrete and granite and glass and plastic and porcelain.

Not too far away is an inlet, and after taking the lift down to the first floor, I made a bee line for that water. The second I reached a place where I could see more nature than concrete, I felt like I could breathe again, and I kicked my shoes off to feel the earth beneath my bare feet and instantly felt weightless and free.

My husband is a genius and he knows me well. All I needed was nature. Dirt. Grass. Trees. Water. It’s what keeps me sane. Xiamen is so interesting, because you’ll be in the middle of the city, and suddenly the regular sidewalk ends, and a beautiful park appears – like Central Park in NY. This photo is looking back toward the buildings of the city from just inside the park.

A paved path runs all the way around the park, providing a place for runners, walkers and cyclists.

It felt so good to walk on the grass, feel the textures beneath my feet, and smell the trees and plants. I took deep breaths and offered a prayer of thanks for the beauty that surrounded me.

The sand around the inlet was full of small shells, and I picked out a few to take home as a reminder.

I watched little children playing, digging, running and laughing. This was their place to feel free, too.

As I walked the grounds, I thought about how important it is to allow ourselves to take the time to feel grounded. It’s so easy to get lost in the hustle of life, that we forget to take care of ourselves, and to be our authentic selves.

I love travel. I love to see the world and learn about different cultures and traditions, and I love learning from people who live so differently from what I’m accustomed to. I believe we have so much to learn from each other. The thought of living in one spot permanently is not appealing to Danny nor I, which is such a foreign thought to many. Neither is better than the other, just different.

Some people thrive in the city, while others are happy by the sea. The diversity is what make it all balanced and functional. As for me, a simple flower. hand full of shells and my bare feet in the sand, is what makes all the difference in the world…and of course my sweet husband to remind me once in a while.

Life is good, and I have much to be grateful for.