ChAlli in Lisbon

It's Been a Busy Spring

May 6, 2024 Everyone Said

stamms in sesimbra

The last few months include hosting guests in Lisbon and traveling to beautiful places.

Haley and Greg Said:

Our trip to Portugal was a memorable one, to say the least. We were there for a little bit over a week and tried to fit as much into that time as we possibly could, including a proposal. We were so lucky to have family in Portugal there to help Greg coordinate such a special event for us. Uncle Chad was a great guide and ring holder all day as we spent time exploring Lisbon together on our first full day abroad. We saw beautiful, historic things all day and ended it at the top of a castle with a great view of the city where we made a bit of history for ourselves. It was such an incredible way to start off the trip, and we loved getting to soak in the rest of it as fiancées.

Our favorite things in Lisbon, besides the castle, were the freshly squeezed orange juice with pastries in the morning, seeing amazing buildings like the Jeronimos Monastery and the Carmo Church & Convent Ruins, and trying great spots for dinner with the Stamms after long days of wandering. We took a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon. This small city was full of charm and amazing architecture. We then did a quick trip to the Algarve for a relaxing day by the beach and a photoshoot together. This beach region had incredible cliffs and caves and we lucked out with some nice spring weather while we were there. We headed from The Algarve to Porto by train and spent some rainy days in this beautiful old city full of character and great wine. We loved going on walks through the city and took a great tour of the Douro wine region nearby. We ended the trip with one final dinner in Lisbon that had incredible food and exploding olives that Sebastian made sure we all tried. Portugal was an incredible country, and we are so lucky to have family there for a few years to visit. Thank you for making our stay and engagement so special Chad, Alli and Sebastian!

Alli Said:

Blink, it’s spring! While it’s only been a few months since I’ve blogged, it feels so much longer with all that’s transpired during this time!

Rain. It’s rained sooooooo much. And not just a little rain. Serious rain and serious wind and flooding! There was even a tornado that touched down! While part of me was glad it wasn’t snow I had to shovel measured in feet, on days I got soaked just walking outside, almost slipping on the cobblestone or burying yet another umbrella that flipped inside out, I started to wonder if I actually did prefer snow! I saw an umbrella in a shop that I should have purchased because it spoke my love language. It said, “Fucking Rain!” Alas, February/March/April showers bring (late April), and May flowers and spring sunshine has finally arrived.

All of that said, the rain (and a few more bouts of illness for all of us) did not stop us. Here are some highlights:

- Violin concert at the Pantheon on a random Sunday night. What a unique experience to be able to impromptu walk into a building (erected in 1682 as a church) and enjoy three college-aged boys playing an amazing violin concerto.

- Harry Potter (Deathly Hallows) movie accompanied by The Lisbon Film Orchestra. This was a big family favorite: Seb for obvious movie reasons, Chad for the music, and me for both!

- Secondhand shopping discovery/obsession. I’ve come to love the multitude of secondhand stores in my neighborhood, which is saying a lot coming from someone who absolutely hates to shop and spend money on clothes. But I realized I needed to up my wardrobe game a bit from Colorado casual, so this checked both boxes!

- Learning that our sweet lady neighbor with the constantly barking dogs actually does speak some English because she offered me a cough remedy after hearing me cough all night (the sad result of apartment living and thin walls).

- One surprise beach day in February with sunny, warm weather and a delicious wine lunch on the water.

- Sebastian landing the lead role in the school play, Oliver Twist! This was so exciting, and we were on pins and needles waiting to hear if he got the part. The day he found out, we both picked him up from school, and as he walked towards us, he had a look on his face that led me to believe he didn’t get it. He said, “I didn’t get it. I got a different role. But you need to sign this form so I can be in the play.” He handed me the form, and as I began the “you tried your best and I’m proud of you” pep talk, I glanced at the form which informed us that he was awarded the part of Oliver. Little shit tricked me. I screamed so loud and started crying. Unbeknownst to me, the entire park was watching. But I didn’t care, I was so excited and a woman sitting on a bench near us laughed and asked for his autograph. Needless to say, Seb was totally embarrassed by me, but I see it not only as my job as mom of a tweener but also as payback for his trickery!

- And finally, more visitors!

Haley and Greg came in February and, to our absolute delight, got engaged while in Lisbon. Chad might have known a thing or two ahead of their visit, and we might have helped orchestrate a thing or two, but in the end, Greg nailed it and did an amazing job atop Castelo Sao Jorge as the sun was about to set. Chad and I have been together long enough that I’ve essentially known Haley since she was two years old, so yeah, I was crying, but they were definitely happy tears at seeing her all grown up and so happy.

Next, my girl Bethany arrived. I’ve said multiple times in previous blogs that the hardest part about being here is being away from friends and family. Bethany is both, and despite talking multiple times per week, nothing compares to an in-person visit that wasn’t meant to focus on the sites of Portugal, per se, but rather the experience of living our day-to-day new life with us (though we did torture her with some iconic sites, a local football match, and she definitely experienced her share of hills)! But there are no tourist attractions that compare to having morning coffee together, walking to the exact spot where our phone conversations always drop when I get on the metro, watching meaningful interactions with Seb, finally experiencing the hyped-up quiosque culture with Chad, running a new route along the beach together and then watching a seagull swoop down and steal the butter from our lunch (clearly we both reached for the wine first), and, finally, snuggling CODY who was over the moon that his brother’s mother not only came to visit but let him sleep in her bed! Sadly, she got the worst weather week (up to that point) with only a few days without rain. But we made the best of every day, and it meant so much to me that she traveled internationally without the rest of the family to share our new life with us. This visit was about quality time and living our lives together as we’ve so often done back home for so many years. I will happily keep your mana close, Bethany, until our Dwamm Family reunion this summer!

We had a brief pause from visitors to resume normal life and celebrate 18 years of marriage. This being a porcelain anniversary, I wanted to get Chad something he’d remember of Portugal and knew he had his eye on. Porcelain espresso coffee cups inspired by patterns from Portuguese cobblestone pavements. Nailed it! We had a low-key day, traded Portuguese anniversary cards, enjoyed a PowerPoint from Seb with love quotes and photos, and took the time to look back on 25 years together and appreciate where we are today. I do not, for one moment, take any of it for granted.

Last but definitely not least, my mom arrived. To say that her visit was highly anticipated is a gross understatement. An even more gross understatement is that she came with a few creature comforts from home, more like an entire suitcase! A lot of it was Seb requests like cereal and pancake mix, but also some Chad candy favorites, and a few things I ordered like supplements and vitamins. Sadly, once again, the rainy, cold weather persisted (end of March can go either way, and it definitely didn’t go the way we wanted it to), but, once again, we made the best of it, enjoyed the sunny days we did have and treasured each moment of having her here with us. I pretty much hazed her into “training” with walking before arriving, and it definitely paid off. She was a trooper and was totally game for every form of transport we threw at her. Thankfully, Seb only had a few days left of school when she arrived before spring break, so we could spend some good QT all together. We brought her to all of our current favorite places, and while she’s a self-proclaimed eat-to-live versus live-to-eat person, she rose to the challenge of tasting new things (especially when Seb persisted that she had to!). I am super close with my mom, and she knows me as well as I know myself in most ways, so it was really fun to watch her surprise in seeing me do and say things and live in a way she’s never really seen before. I’m still me, of course, but this experience and time are allowing me (and forcing me) to do things differently than I’ve done them back home, and I’m glad I got to share that with her.

During her visit, we got some surprise news from my sister and nephew in Israel that he was approved for a few days of leave from service. After a year and a half of serving without a break and the more recent intensity and horrors that have ensued, we were so excited to be able to see and hug them. We decided to surprise my mom, and it could not have gone better. Her response was hilarious. She was clearly shocked but so happy to see them both. We treasured the few days we had together, showing them Lisbon, enjoying food and drinks, marveling at my amazing nephew, who has turned into an even more amazing man since we’ve seen him, and most of all, just being grateful for the smiles and hugs.

Being that my mom turns 75 this year and not being there for her actual birthday, we pre-planned a different surprise to celebrate her while she was here, one that would also double as one of Chad’s path to 50th events. Enter the Tulip Festival in Holland! I knew this was a bucket list item for her and definitely something we wanted to see, as well. Tulips just happen to be my favorite flower.
So, after a brief trip to urgent care for yet another illness, we headed to the airport. We got as far as the airport waiting area without telling her where we were going, and when the gate was called, Seb announced it.

Words cannot explain just how beautiful the gardens at Keukenhof were on the day we arrived. The rain ceased the moment we arrived, and the sun revealed the most vibrant, beautiful flowers for miles and miles. It was truly an unbelievable landscape of tulips and windmills and water features and orchids galore. We walked around for hours, soaking it all in before heading to Amsterdam city center for Seb’s first glimpse of the city. I knew he was going to love it, and it was just as wonderful as I remembered. I definitely did not remember there being more bicycles than people, which is the case now, but if you’re careful to stay out of the way, it totally adds to the charm of the city.

We hit the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House, both stops we’d (Challi) seen in 2006, but both were very different this time around. Seeing things with and through the eyes of your child, who has embraced the joys of travel and exploration, is a gift beyond all others. But watching Sebastian learn this harsh history, being of a similar age as she was, and make parallels to the present was a powerful experience I didn’t anticipate but embraced all the same. This is why we’re here. We had some great Indonesian food, and we (Challi) enjoyed a fun date night out on the town together (what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam!)

When we returned to Lisbon, we had a few more days to enjoy Mom’s visit before we had to say goodbye for now. I think it’s fair to say that we did as much as we possibly could do in the precious time we were together and had a great time doing it. I’m so proud of my mom, who braved the international flight with a layover, crappy weather, lots and lots of walking, and multiple time changes/jetlag to come and see us. It’s a lot easier to stay in your comfort zone, but it takes guts to travel, and I’m so grateful she did. Saying goodbye was as hard as we expected it to be, and I decided that I was going to allow it to just suck for a minute. We are so lucky to have had the time we did and I was reminded and will once again borrow my friend Dr. Seuss’ quote, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

The power of distraction cannot be understated, and we knew we’d need a few in the days following my mom leaving. First, I strategically planned another Path to 50 surprise for Chad, this one included Seb for a Pastel de Nata baking class. Together, at the Lisbon Cooking Academy, they learned all about the history of infamous Portuguese custard tarts and learned step by step how to make them. They were, indeed, delicious! Next, we booked the last weekend of spring break at a beach about an hour outside of Lisbon in a town called Sesimbra. The second my mom left, the rain stopped, and summer arrived. After what felt like an eternity of rainy, cold days, we were rewarded with hotter temps, sunshine, and an absolutely gorgeous beach weekend. We had some lovely beach time (my happy place), delicious seafood dinners,  a gorgeous run along the water, and a super fun boat ride (which ended up being just us and a guide) with dolphin sightings, private beaches along the coast, and unbelievable caves! We finished the weekend with our favorite Portuguese family with a little more beach time (somehow, they got us in the freezing ocean, and for my memory later on, I was the only one that went all in!) and a wonderful lunch together.

My cup is full.

Seb Said:

Kaboom! 9 months passed, 3 left until it’s officially a year! So much has happened, and so many people have come since we last wrote in Barcelona. In the past few months, three guests have come. We thought that was a lot, but compared to the summer coming up, it was nothing. The first people who came were Haley and Greg. Their coming was so fun because not only did they come just to visit us, but they got engaged right in front of us at the castle. I’ve never actually seen a real-life proposal, and I was very, very, very excited to see it. I had a lot of difficulty keeping it a secret and not spoiling it, but I managed! We went to fado that night to celebrate. Fado is a Portuguese style of singing that goes back a long time when the sailor’s wives would sing their sorrows at restaurants because their husbands had gone out to sea. Many Portuguese people don’t like it because it brings back very sad memories of Portuguese history. But I love it because it’s very beautiful and we took them to our favorite place where I know all the singers and they know me. Every time we go there, I always ask them to play a specific song that I love and they always do it.

Next, Aunt Bethany came! Since the Andersons were here, she was the first real taste of home. When we got back to our house from the airport, Cody was so excited to see her he peed on the floor. Then, later that night, amazingly, even though Aunt Bethany was so jetlagged, they were still hungry! So, there is a restaurant around our house called Galeto, and it is basically a New York-like diner that stays open until like 3 AM. So, my dad and she went to get it, and my mom and I went to bed. The next day, we walked along the water and then hopped on the train as we had a football game that night. My favorite club team, Sporting, was playing against the team called Estoril. Sporting ended up winning five to one. Aunt Bethany definitely did her research so that when we got to the game, she knew exactly how football (soccer for y’all Americans out there :) worked. Haley and Greg returned from Porto, and we all had dinner together on their last night here. We took them to one of our favorite restaurants called Taberna. They have this amazing dish called exploding olives, which is some kind of molecular gastronomy, my dad calls it. It is olive juice inside of a kind of silky thing. It’s very hard to explain, but if and when you come to Portugal, you need to try it. Anyway, even though Greg hates olives, we all made them try it because the texture is crazy. I even got it on video!

Oh yeah! I got the part of Oliver in my school play, Oliver Twist! I really did not expect to get the part at all because there were two other very talented actresses there who also tried out for the part. I was convinced that one of them would get it. Turns out, I was wrong. When I found out, I almost screamed in the entire assembly. Not to worry my mom did that for me (see her blog for more detail). To celebrate, we went up to a rooftop above the school with a pretty view of the water to watch the sunset.

Next up, Grandma!!!!!! Of all of the three visitors, for me, she was the most anticipated. The countdown started at 118 days. And just like that, it’s here. Sadly, the day she came, I had exams, so I could not pick her up at the airport. But, I left a sign on her door explaining it. The whole day in school I was barely paying attention because I was anticipating the end of the day which felt like years. She came and picked me up and was standing right outside the front gates. I was so excited to see her. We took a picture in front of the school logo. Then, the half an hour it took us to get home, I would not let go of her as it felt like a dream. For those of you who know me, I am a very sensory-driven kid, and the first thing I noticed was that for the first day or two that she was here, I could smell her house in Colorado, which made me happy. When we got home from school, I was greeted with a birthday before my birthday. On my bed, there were candies and magazines and snacks from Colorado that I couldn’t get here. On the table, more snacks, a book, even more candy, and of course, not as interesting, but still very important, kick-ass immune.

That first night, we were a little bit harsh and threw her into a full-blown Portuguese meal with fish, beef, and other traditional Portuguese foods. What made us even more harsh was making her eat at 8 o’clock to nine every night. Her normal schedule is eating around 4 to 5 PM. Aunt Bethany has the same routine and even though she prepared Grandma for this disaster, she still was very surprised. But hey, she did fine.

Me and her have a routine in Colorado where whenever I sleep at her house, we will go to the zoo (if the weather is nice). We wanted to keep that routine, so we went to the zoo in Lisbon, which I had been waiting to go to with her for many months until she came. Even though the zoo was smaller than the Denver Zoo and had a lot more hills, it was amazing. The dolphin show was especially fun, and we timed the weather just right because the dolphin show had a rain cover, and the second we sat down, it started pouring. The second we left, it cleared up and was sunny.

We had two surprises for her this trip, one very well thought out and planned, and the second one more last minute and thrown together. I’ll start with the more thrown-together one. My cousin is in the army in Israel and had a week-long break. Since coming to Portugal from Israel is a lot closer than coming from Israel to Colorado, they decided to surprise Grandma and come to Portugal for a few days. I had started a WhatsApp group with my parents, cousin, and aunt, who was also coming. The entire day leading up to when they came, we were texting back and forth about how we would surprise her, who would video it, where we would meet them, etc. The way that we ended up doing it was my parents went to “take Cody on a walk,” wink wink. What they were actually doing was going to pick up my cousin and Aunt. In the meantime, I was left with the job of distracting Grandma until they rang the bell. When I told her to answer the door, she was very confused as to why, because it’s our house and I was being strangely persistent about her answering it. In the end, she ended up answering it and it took her a few minutes, but she figured out how to open the old-fashioned Portuguese door. Let me just say her reaction was priceless. If you want to see it, I will post the video along with the attached pictures. Aunt Jen always has a thing for bringing me candy when she visits from Israel. This time, though, she really overdid it. I was the happiest 11-year-old in Portugal. Since I don’t want to repeat what Grandma and my mom have said, I will leave out most of the details of the visit. One last thing though, GUESS WHAT?!?! I GOT SICK AGAIN AND HAD TO MISS A FEW OF ACTIVITIES WITH THEM!!! It sucks, right? It’s like I’m a ticking sick bomb waiting to explode!!!

Time for surprise number 2! This surprise was a lot more planned out. All she knew was that we needed her passport because we were going somewhere international. We packed up our bags (for the second time for Grandma) and were on our way to Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport. I wanted to keep it a surprise for her as long as possible. As a result of that, my plan was to blindfold her and take her hearing aids out until we got there. But my mom vetoed that idea because she said it was elder abuse. All I knew about the place we were going was that it had a lot of canals. Obviously, I did not tell her that because it would be a big giveaway. I waited until we got in the gate to let her read the sign of the destination. She was very excited. I will also include the video in the pictures.

The first day was very busy. First, we went to the famous tulip festival at Keukenhof Gardens. That event alone took up about all of the storage of photos on my phone. The funny thing is, I took all of these cool photos and videos of the gardens, but in the end, I’m just going to end up deleting them because I have no use for them, and all it does is take up storage. Even so, the gardens were beautiful, and it was fun to take cool pictures. Those gardens were probably the most flowers I have ever seen in one place. After the gardens, we decided to check out the city center. All large cities have a “wow factor.” Let me just say that the city center of Amsterdam was definitely the wow-factor of Holland. I walked up out of the stairs of the metro into the city center and my jaw pretty much dropped to the floor. I got this warm, tingly feeling I always get when getting my first glimpse of a new city or country.

Even though the traditional “Amsterdamian” food (I know it’s not accurate, I just like to call it that) is like sausage, meat, and things like that, Indonesian culture has a big influence on Amsterdam. As a result of that, for dinner, we decided to “be like the locals” and have a traditional Indonesian meal. We all agreed on one thing: we wouldn’t be eating again for another week. There was SOO MUCH FOOD. The next day, we went to the Van Gogh Museum. It was pretty cool but after about 20 portraits of Van Gogh just in different positions, I got bored. I guess I get my “museums are so boringness” from my mom. Next up, Anne Frank’s house. That was very impressive because of how well preserved they keep it and overall, it is a very educational (in a good way) place. Yes, it was a little bit intense for a 9 pm visit, but it was totally worth it. It was kind of mind-blowing to see her actual diaries, which they had on display behind security glass. Her neat, script handwriting and her curvy f’s. It was mesmerizing to just think, she wrote this with her bare hands. This amazing brave girl wrote this with a pen and paper, right here, in this room. The last day, we kind of just walked around the city, my mom and grandma wanted to see the Jewish museum so we split up. I went with my dad to just walk around the city center. On the walk, we “accidentally” ended up stumbling into the red light district. Let’s just say my mom was not happy with my dad.

After we got back to Lisbon, we had one more day before she left. So, we made the best of it and booked a super fun tuk-tuk tour, which took us by all the sights we hadn’t shown Grandma. For dinner that night, we went to a SUPER YUMMY Chinese restaurant that we had been saving until Grandma came. Apparently, it’s a good thing we waited because she said that of all the meals, that was her favorite. The next day was just simply and utterly depressing. Not only just because Grandma was leaving that day but also because my mom and Grandma thought it would be a good idea to prank me the day she left. Here’s how she did it: Basically, her flight got delayed, so they wanted to let me sleep as long as I could until we had to leave to drop her off. At around 8:30 am, my mom came to wake me up. She told me, “Grandma told me to say goodbye to you. She didn’t want to wake you up.” I was a little startled but was still half asleep, so I said, “I know you’re messing with me.” She said, “No, I’m not! Look at the time.” She then showed me her watch, and sure enough, it said 8:35 am. (The time she was supposed to takeoff the first time before she got delayed.) I then really freaked out and buried my head in my pillow and started crying. My mom, realizing I was crying, quickly told me, “Oh no, bud, we’re just kidding!” When she knew I was ok, she walked out of my room laughing and congratulated my Grandma for the prank success. We headed to the airport, helped her check-in, and were able to walk her all the way to security. Right about now was when the tears began to stream. After a Guinness Book of World Records for the longest hug, we finally let her go. As she got on the escalator and we couldn’t see her anymore, we noticed the security guard watching us, and she said, “Don’t cry!” We binged watched a show the rest of the day and talked about when we’d visit again! And, as Winnie the Pooh once wisely said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Gerri Said:

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, ……….!

After months of counting down with Seb the day finally arrived for me to get on the plane to Lisbon. I’m not sure who was more excited, but after tying up loose ends at work and making sure Hanna was taken care of for the two weeks (great family took care of her), I was off on my long journey. I will fully admit I’m not the bravest traveler internationally alone, but nothing was going to stop me from seeing my family. Thankfully, I have three daughters who have become my mom and walk me through a lot of it.

After landing in Lisbon on no sleep, Alli met me at the airport, and we went back to her place where I was able to sleep for a few hours before we picked up Seb from school. Cody met me with lots of licks and jumped right into my bed. I started him on his new regime of frozen carrots and green beans in his food, and Grandma became the carrot whisperer all day long. I was happy he remembered me!

As they don’t have a car, my journey through the many modes of transportation started with pickup at school. We were both so excited, and he kept saying, “Are you really here?” and kept hugging me the rest of the day. As you can guess, I didn’t mind that at all.

First stop was Time Out Market, kind of like what we call a food court, but with really great restaurants in it. Seb insisted that I had to have a pastel de nata, which is a Portuguese egg custard tart pastry. After one bite, I was in love.

While Seb was in school the next day, Alli and I went for pedicures that were fabulous, top of the line. My first day, I registered 10,894 steps on my iWatch, which was a record for me. I realized that being at sea level is very helpful for my lungs! One day was 14,000 steps and 14 flights!! I think my drill sergeant daughter was determined to push me as much as she could. Thanks, honey, I think I did pretty well! As was our tradition back home (which Seb saved to go until I came), we went to the Lisbon Zoo which had a fantastic dolphin show. Seb and I painted Portuguese tiles at this cool place and he painted me a giraffe plate, my favorite zoo animal. Alli got tickets for a special dinner at a restaurant that night that had a Beatles cover band, and we all had a blast and were up dancing. This was also my introduction to eating dinners after 8 pm with the Stamms. We had another special dinner at a little place with fado music. The singers knew Seb from previous visits and loved him.

We took a walking tour of a neighborhood in Lisbon and hopped on a trolly to get out of the rain. It was packed but also a good way to see the city without getting soaked. I told Alli I was going to open up an umbrella/sneaker store there as everyone wears sneakers on the slippery sidewalks that I almost went down a number of times and would have taken Alli down with me. Broken umbrellas were everywhere in the trash cans! We played some great rummy cube games at night, and I enjoyed delicious lattes each morning from my daughter.

Then the BIG SURPRISE #1 happened: Seb made me answer the door, and I thought I was letting Alli, Chad, and Cody back in, and to my total shock, my grandson Jaden and daughter Jen were standing there!!! Somehow, he was able to last minute get a week off of the army and said he wanted to see me. Yes, that kid!!! It was one of those things where you see someone in front of you, but it doesn’t register. All I could say was, “What the hell are you doing here?” Then I broke down. I was so shocked that I almost didn’t say hi to Jen, LOL . We all had a great visit, sightseeing and just being together. We climbed hills, took a funicular, walked along the water where we sat, and listened to a DJ while Jen danced with this 80-year-old woman who put us all to shame dancing by herself for over an hour! It was fun being by the water at sunset. After a few days, sadly, they left, and then we all went to the airport for SURPRISE #2:

Seb wanted to blindfold me and take my hearing aids out so I wouldn’t know where we were going till we landed, but Alli mentioned that bordered on elder abuse and didn’t allow it. We looked at the board when the gate came up, and AMSTERDAM, here we come!!! I was so excited as I had been wanting to go there and the bonus was we were going to Holland for the Tulip Festival (a trip I was planning for next year)! Not so bad turning 75 this year, which is how old the Tulip Festival is…coincidence?

What comes to mind in Amsterdam is bicycles, bicycles, bicycles!!! Thousands! And bike lanes where they have the right of way except for certain crosswalks. It was all very confusing to me, and Alli saved me several times from being run over by a bike. Seb and I shared a room, and Mommy and Daddy had a night out on the town. Next day, we woke up to more rain, but we were determined to brave the rain and go see wet tulips. The whole Uber ride there, it was pouring, and as we pulled up, the sky opened and the sun came out. It was a beautiful day. I highly recommend doing this to anyone who goes to Amsterdam this time of year as it was absolutely amazing!!

The next day, we went to the Van Gogh Museum, and then at night, we went to the Anne Frank House, which was on my list of must-sees for a long time. It was very heavy walking where she walked for sure. We took one of those long boats on the river, went to the Jewish quarter where there were metal plates in the sidewalk marking where Jews lived and the camps they were taken to with no return. We also went to the old synagogues. Next day, we flew back to Lisbon and did more sightseeing, and of course, I took Seb for new sneakers (it’s a grandma thing). Seb wanted to ride in a Tuk Tuk, so he and Alli and I did a 2-hour tour out to Belem. It was a fun way to see things, but the cobblestone roads left us wanting a chiropractor when we finished. The last night, we went to this fabulous Asian restaurant that was very cool with amazing presentations of the food.

I can’t thank Clark (Chad) enough for putting up with his mother-in-law for 2 weeks and not one complaint (at least that I heard). He was our Rick Steves of Portugal and Amsterdam and outdid himself with sightseeing, food, and fun. By the end of the trip, I could see that they were all thriving, living there, and having an experience of a lifetime. I was very impressed at how both Seb and Alli had mastered the public transportations (and there are many different schedules, pick up points, etc). Alli was a wiz at directions, which if anyone knows the girls in my family, directions are not our strong suit. Seb has really matured and gets around on his own there really well. I found the people of Portugal very friendly and helpful. I also felt much safer walking around there which is why Seb has more freedom. Seeing my grandson and all of them speaking the language pretty well was very impressive. Although I miss them terribly, I’m glad they are having this experience.

This trip, on so many levels, will be the best trip with the best memories to last a lifetime, and I can’t thank my family enough for making this mom/grandma feel so very special. Alli, I will miss my latte every morning, but seeing you hang clothes with clothespins since you had no dryer, was an eye-opener.

As I always say, my work is done here. Goodbyes are never easy, especially when we won’t see each other for so long, but the memories will have to do for now, and we can start the countdown again until next time.

Chad Said:

The spring has been full of visitors and events, trips and new traditions. So much has happened since our journey to Barcelona that taking it in small chunks is probably the easiest way to go:

A New Member of the Family: Everything was predetermined. My niece Haley knew it was going to happen on their trip to Portugal, but she didn't know when Greg was going to pop the question. I did, though. I knew which day. I knew where it was going to happen. And I knew I had to carry around the ring all freakin' day. Talk about pressure. I was way more relieved than they were when I passed off the ring to Greg behind Haley's back as we reached the overlook at the Castelo de São Jorge. Greg got down on a knee, proposed to my niece, everyone around us clapped and cheered, we welcomed a new member to the family, and now Lisbon will always hold a special place not just in our lives, but in there's as well.

A Fun Week with a Friend: We tried to hit as many quiosques as possible while Bethany was here, but the sad truth is the weather didn't cooperate as much as we would have liked. That didn't ruin our parade, though. Starting on day one, we traipsed across the waterfront hillsides, enjoying the overlooks between our stops for wine, port, cheese, and Iberian hams. We made a few late-night pit stops. And she even made it to the Sporting game the next day after a raucous first night. Bethany got to see the day-to-day around here, leaving many things undone for her trip back this summer with the entire family. See you in July, Duarts. The weather will be nicer. I promise!

A Visit from Our Family in Israel Who Deserved a Break: Alli's mom flew in from Colorado to spend a few weeks with us, but more on that in a minute. While she was here, though, Jen and Jaden surprised her by flying over from Israel. To say things have been on edge there is a bit of an understatement, so it was especially great to provide Jaden, who is in the army, with a few days of respite from his life as a soldier in a country in the middle of war. We showed them around town, enjoyed some quiosque time, and even managed to score a reservation at a speakeasy known as one of the top bars in the world. Though it was short, we all enjoyed our time together and laughed like we used to.

A Bucket List Trip for Gerri to Amsterdam: When you visit a colder-weather city in spring, it's a gift to hit that very first day of the year when the weather breaks and summer peaks in from behind the curtains. When that city is Amsterdam, the magic that ensues is almost indescribable -- people picnicking along the canal walls, friends hanging out on top of bridges, families slicing through tourists on bikes. The city was out en masse, and the energy was everywhere.

All that said, the time I will most cherish on this trip to Amsterdam was a few simple moments I had alone. Don't get me wrong, seeing Sebastian's reaction to first entering the city was amazing. Knowing that Gerri was doing something she always wanted to do was all I could have asked for. Spending a date night out with Alli was full of fun and so many laughs. But let me talk about those quiet times.

I'd been to the Van Gogh Museum before. The last time I was there, I had visited a coffee shop in advance, leading to quite an amazing experience, if you know what I mean. This time, it was different. It was a different type of encounter, one where I tried to put myself in Van Gogh's head, to understand his perspective and the point he was trying to make, which seems to me was a new way of looking. He saw the world through a lens that had never been captured before.

When I got through the exhibit, I realized there was a famous painting I hadn't seen. I returned to that area only to find a blank spot on the wall where it was supposed to be, next to a security guard who happened to look eerily similar to Van Gogh himself -- the eyes, the rough red beard, the skin, the gaze that we all know from the self-portraits. I asked him where the painting had gone, and he told me to go down to the temporary exhibit featuring Matthew Wong, an area I had planned to skip for two reasons. One, I was on borrowed time with Sebastian, who has a limited museum shelf life. And two, I honestly did not know Matthew Wong or his work.


I followed the guard's directions and went all the way to the ground floor, where I entered the Wong exhibit. Immediately, the colors and the imagery popped off the walls in brilliant ways. So did the biography that talked about his work, his life, and how he had taken his life because painting wasn't enough to save it, though it probably kept him alive longer than if he didn't paint. Seeing his work, learning about his story, discovering his admiration for Van Gogh, and looking at their work side by side, including the Van Gogh painting I was on the original mission to find -- all of it was a quiet lesson on the nature of the creativity, how both of these two men were so talented and generous with their gifts, yet the giving wasn't enough to make life worth living. Their talent and craft were so uplifting, yet their personal stories were so difficult to digest. And as I walked out of the exhibit and back into the main hall, the security guard from the floor above was now sitting just outside the doors. It was like he was waiting for me, like he had directed me to discover the story of Matthew Wong and to contemplate the creative process in the process. The guard who resembled Van Gogh looked at me, and I swear to god, he winked. Maybe he recognized the look of discovery in my eyes.

When you come to Amsterdam and learn about creative talent, there's another famous figure who cannot be ignored. Anne Frank was a force of nature -- proving that age does not matter, that inspiration can come from the darkest of circumstances, and that if people truly have something amazing to say, that amazement can make it into the world no matter how ugly that world can be. But for Anne, of course, her amazing gift was that she could see beauty in the midst of all the ugliness, and that is a talent in itself. Her discipline to write and her command of language was just icing on the cake.

I have always been a huge admirer of Anne Frank because of her unrelenting optimism. Her words have always resonated with me. I've read her diary twice. And this was my second time in her secret annex. On the way in, a Muslim girl scanned our tickets. This is what Anne would have wanted, I said to Gerri. That was one of the points she made in her pages. This time, though, near the end of the exhibit, I had the chance to spend a few silent minutes in the dark rooms with those pages where her diaries are displayed. Alone. Nobody else around me. Not a soul. The hairs on my neck stood up. I looked at her handwriting, the letters and words she had written, and in the silence of that space, I could feel her optimism. I felt the joy for her, that her lifelong dream of being a published writer not only came true but made her one of the most recognizable names in literary history. I felt the burden, too, as someone who wants to be a published author myself, to make the efforts that she could not make, to use my time because, for her, it was taken away. And then it hit me...

The entire day -- Van Gogh, Matthew Wong, Anne Frank -- it was all about tremendously talented and gifted people, people who were gracious with their creativity and crafts, that were taken away from us much too early. In the case of Van Gogh and Wong, they removed themselves. In the case of Anne Frank, it was pure evil. The beauty here is that all three of them achieved their ultimate goals. They are household names. The sad part is they never got to experience that recognition, which is a catalyst for those of us who also wish for success with our creativity. We find inspiration in their stories. We pay tribute to them through our own work and hope that we can see the world in a new way.

A Weekend at the Beach: We had an amazing time with Gerri over her two weeks in Europe. We're so grateful that she got to spend some time with us, especially Sebastian who had been so excited to show her so many aspects of our life here in Lisbon. We also knew it was going to be very tough when she left.

After all the activity listed above, we were really in need of some quiet, relaxing downtime. So, we went across the street from our apartment, got on a bus, transferred to another bus, and in just over an hour we were in the historic beach town of Sesimbra. Underneath the walls of a castle high on the hill, we enjoyed the breaking waves and the weather that finally broke into summer. We enjoyed what turned out to be a private boat tour of the coastline, spotting dolphins, ancient dinosaur tracks, swells crashing into the rocky coastline, secret beaches, and the salt air that isn't thin. It stuck right to our skin, and made us feel fine. On Sunday, we enjoyed an awesome lunch with the Sousas, who first introduced us to this amazing little town last year when we were on spring break. We enjoyed another amazing meal with them at the Formiga Snack Bar and called it a weekend.


What began as a front-row seat for my niece's engagement and included visitors, trips, and our own Challi anniversary celebration, it's been a wild few months. Now, it's time for Seb to go back to school!

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