Friday, November 23, 2007


today we write from the lovely medieval italian town of is a walled city, all the buildings are made of sienna-colored brick, and it is so beautiful around every turn, every narrow street. the duomo (cathedral) here is made of black, white and pink stone...over the city walls you can see the fall-turning-colors hills of tuscany, vineyards, more beautiful buildings....we are on a day-off field trip from our amazing help exchanging experience outside of cecina...the property is up in the hills, reminding me of northern california and heartwood, the rolling hills....olive orchards, kaki (persimmon) trees in the garden, almost 200 acres of this, 40 horses, 3 golden retrievers that love attention, our own little cottage with a little twin bed loft that we squeeze into, and a most beautiful old italian style house that nicola and his 2 kids live in... the night we arrived we walked into a delicious meal with nicola's sister, nephew, and mother... we ate a traditional italian dish (kira, carson and i both thought of you independently as we ate the stewed pork dish, thinking "i bet kira would love this!") surrounded by the italian language here, nicola speaks good english and the kids do some, but mostly we sit around the table and listen to italian which is wonderful. there are two wwoofers here too, one from arizona and the other from brazil (but amazingly she lived in olympia for three years in the 90's and ate at the urban onion all the time! how wild!) and they are both so great....jennie is here to cook for a week, and yesterday the four of us spent 7 hours in the kitchen cooking the most amazing thanksgiving dinner ever. buying a whole turkey here in italy is rare, they had to order it at the butcher shop and everyone gawked at the size of an entire bird! we made all the traditional things and invited the other people who live at the farm over for dinner, we made fresh bread to bake in the outdoor oven, and we had 8 desserts on the table, including home made gelato and...oh i could talk about food forever, couldn't i!? we are having so much fun here....lots of laughter and expression, lovely fruit at the end of each meal, fresh salads, so much yummy olive oil that was produced on the farm, rolling hills, a much warmer climate than we experienced in austria for sure, and the ability to learn little pieces of a new language.

so far we have worked a few days trimming olive trees, learning the art of it, how to trim the old branches and the straight shooting branches to make way for the olive producing branches, and to do it in a way that maximizes the tree's health...also we have worked to refill ditches and burn a burn pile, it was fun to tend a fire and keep it going! to anyone who is thinking of traveling, we love and the opportunities it has offered us thus far, just amazing!

hopefully we can find a way to put some pictures on soon, we have a lot of them! much love to everyone, we were thinking of you all yesterday on thanksgiving, giving thanks for you in our lives!

m & c

Sunday, November 18, 2007


we have been walking the narrow winding streets of venice this evening...getting lost in the maze of canals and little streets that intersect and turn and get lost and emerge again into a piazza or another thoroughfare or little bridge....quite picturesque, yet has been our week of picturesqueness, from the beauty of the vienna buildings all painted in yellows and cremes and the train ride to salzburg through the danube river valley, with a multitude of green fields and church steeples rising up in every town, to salzburg and it's sound-of-music-ness, dramatic castles on the cliff, snow flakes big enough to aim and catch them with your mouth, a cozy big hostel that plays the sound of music every night on a big tv (wouldn't that get old night?!) our trainride through the austrian alps, which started out snowy and foggy and mysterious, trying to see the peaks, and then we emerged through one tunnel and the sky was blue in patches and it was SO beautiful, just amazing, riding in the middle of the valley between all of those magnificent mountains with the cute little ski village towns interspersed.

we arrived to bled, slovenia in the dark, and made our way to the place where carson's aunt and uncle live....they set us up in a little self-catering apartment for two nights, it was so luxurious, our own little room and private bathroom and even a kitchen which we did not have time to use, because the first night they took us out to a traditional slovenian restaurant where i had a whole trout baked with potatoes in foil (fresh from the pure lake nearby) and carson had dumplings with turkey and mushrooms, a local special...of course we had some lovely slovenian wine, which was very good too! yesterday the sky was entirely blue and we walked around the lake in bled which is absolutely stunning (search on google images for bled, slovenia to see pictures!) the castle there rises above these sheer rock cliffs, and we walked up to that too....the mountains rise in the is so beautiful. everyone we met was so very nice and friendly to us. bill and lisa drove us to ljubljana last night, which is the capital of slovenia and was quite charming down by the river with little bridges and willows hanging over the water...we went to a mexican restaurant which may have been the loudest restaurant we've ever eaten in! it was so much fun, we saw two of bill's friends from the shipyard and ate huge plates of mexican food and had a bucket of assorted mexican was it fun to hang out with bill and lisa, they've been traveling and sailing around the world and working in between for about 20 years and have been to so many places, a real inspiration for us right now! it is such a blessing to spend time with family and to see familiar faces. bill also gave us a most thorough, informative, and behind the scenes tour of the 80 foot luxury sailing yacht they are working on, we went down below and saw everything coming together, and toured the warehouses to see other boats in process and a huge robotic computerized machine that drills and cuts so precisely (and quickly, compared to doing it all by hand) one of the only machines in the world like that. bill and lisa inspired us about sailing some day, maybe checking out the possibility of working on a yacht as crew (massage...serving...?!) they are so great!!!!!!!!

today we took a train to venice, through the rest of the alps that we'll see and through flatter lands where many backyards of houses have their own little grape collection growing. venice is wild...beautiful, confusing, charming, quite touristy at every turn, amazing, and a wonder of the world for sure. we spent the evening wandering around endlessly, getting lost a little and then finding our way back to something familiar, looking for places to eat, drinking a delicious cappuccino made from an old large tall copper espresso machine, and having lovely thin crust pizzas with ricotta and spinach on them...(and of course, wine again, a beverage i've never enjoyed so much of since coming to france/spain/slovenia/italy)....we will spend the morning in venice and then take a train to cecina via florence for our next help exchange, on 200 acres of beautiful property near the coast, working with pruning olive trees and hopefully working with the many horses that are boarded on the property, as well as some golden retrievers, which i have to say are my favorite kind of dog (i miss you tobin!.....and we miss you too, bernard!)

we are not sure of our internet access at our next help exchange, but we will write when we can and we are thinking of you all!!
much love,
m & c

Thursday, November 15, 2007

snow falling in the alps

hi everyone!

i am writing from snowy salzburg austria! a little while ago we stumbled into a austrian liqueur shop called sporers which is over 100 years old (4th generation)and had all sorts of hot spiked punches of orange or christmas like spices, as well as flavored warmed my belly right up! i made the joke that the snow flakes are here just because it would make the town more picturesque, because that's the kind of place this is, like a postcard. the town is old, and all around are hills and mountains covered with snow and adorned with castles or cathedrals. (this is where the sound of music was filmed) it is great to be a part of this winter weather, as today we just bought a ticket to sunny warm thailand, which will fly out of rome on the 11th of december. we have just under another month in europe, and most of it will be in italy..staying with a family on 200 acres of pasture and woods just below pisa (that's right, with that leaning tower thing). it has been so fun being in austria and hearing the german language for the first time. it is beautiful and romantic and gutteral and special all at the same time. we spent the last three days in vienna exploring the town and the market and seeing what local fares this part of the world has. lots of bread. dark bread. and sauerkraut, and cheeses, and cheap austrian wine. the highlight of the time there was staying with a friend named marianne, who we found off she had been on a year long trip when was 24 and so it was a perfect match to stay with her and be inspired by her journey alone and see photos and hear stories, and vice versa to share what we've been up to and inspire her. the first night there she made us a traditional austrian dish that is mainly dumplings and eggs, and invited one of her friends over. we had great conversation and laughed a lot and i was overwhelmed by the hospitality and graciousness of these fine people.

so now we leave tomorrow for bled, slovenia where my uncle bill and aunt lisa live, and we will have dinner with them. the train ride there is through the alps, which will be a highlight of this time that we've been here in austria. from there we go to venice, and then onto cecina, where our next help exchange is. hope that everyone back home is doing lovely, and know we are thinking of you all often. much love,
carson üöä ...a few german letters on this german keyboard.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

hola from barcelona!

we made it here after a (very) long trip in the camper van through southern france and northeastern spain. the earlier french bit was beautiful, fall was sweeping the hillsides and the leaves were all golden and turning brown. most of the roads on the way were toll roads though, and we realized how expensive it can be to drive in france and spain, with gas sold by the litre as well!

but is a city easy to fall in love with instantly. it is much warmer here than where we've been so far, and it's right on the mediterranean sea, so there's that freshness in the air, close to the ocean, a port town. we walked down la rambla yesterday and cut off into the market...the most amazing market i've ever seen, so large and expansive and has everything you need....fresh juices in all fresh fruit flavors, like coconut, mango, kiwi, peach, passionfruit, pineapple, coconutstrawberry, banana chocolate....tropical fruits and all other fruits and fresh green herbs and lettuces of all varieties and nuts and cheese stands and fresh fish and prawns that are still moving and walking around and falling off of their displays, sausages, pig legs hanging from above that the people cut fresh slices of prociutto off of, rabbits skinned and with their hair still on whatever your prefer, chickens with their heads still on but skinned, pigs feet sold by the kilo, fresh tapas booths where the seafood is cooked right in front of you, little pots of fresh goat milk yogurt, croissants dipped in chocolate, candy and bonbons and truffles, a wandering accordian player, the smells and sounds, spice booths, organic paella and salad and savory crepes....brown eggs and white eggs and more coconut juice. it was incredible. we went there twice. :)

we walked down to the harbor where they have all of the racing sailboats poised for the barcelona world race...there were also old sailboats docked and the sun shone through their ropes....we found sweet little cafes everywhere, winding narrow streets with beautiful architecture extending up to the sky, so you want to look down and up at the same time, little shops selling beautiful funky clothes (flora we thought of you all day and how much you'd love them), great shoe stores, tapas bars, irish pubs, wine shops with spanish wine, meat shops, cheap falafel restaurants and all you can eat tapas buffets, old churches interspersed (we walked into one in the afternoon and a group of nuns were singing, like angels....i love walking into these old churches and being immersed in their sacredness). we found a little outdoor cafe by the market and had the most amazing 11E meal...large salads with balls of the sea (little shrimp fresh fish balls fried in sesame seeds)...chicken with sauteed spinach or fresh seabass with market mushrooms and romescu sauce...a glass of (carson) or the most delicious melissa dessert ever (fresh yogurt with honey and blackberry compote!)...bread and olive oil/ it was such a great deal! later we went to a little place called la luna de jupiter and shared a bottle of local barcelona torres wine and dedicated our toasts to kira and flora who would love the day we had (earlier our rose toasts were dedicated to morgan, who carson was last in barcelona with and who he misses terribly, and to my dad, who would just love this place too, all the ships and the harbor and the architecture and the winding streets, i can just imagine all the pictures he'd take here!) we went into the basilica de santa maria de la mar last night, an enormous cathedral almost as tall as the notre dame inside...then to a wine bar with over 300 wines on the menu, sitting up stairs overlooking the square and the church through the open window drinking a glass of sparkling pinot noir...then we went to a little restaurant called mar de la ribera and had our official spanish paella, with mussels, fresh prawns with their heads still on, and white fish...dedicated to sarah tucker who always told me about how much she loves spanish paella. we've been having fun dedicating our toasts to different people we are thinking of in the moment who we'd know would enjoy what we are doing, where we are.

last night was so busy on the streets, many clubs don't even OPEN until midnight here, and go until 5 in the morning! we walked around for a while, but by then our legs were so tired that we made our way back up to our little catalonia hostel. we're in bunkbeds again, but they are so soft and cozy it's wonderful (sometimes our beds have been a little less than comfy in our hosteling experience). i think today we're going to la sagrada de la familia, one of gaudi's famous creations, and then back to the market for sure, and who knows what else! we are leaving tomorrow morning for vienna!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

home is where you are

our last night at berthegon...i'm sitting in the common room with carson, leah and julia, drinking homemade mulled wine and writing my reflections in "the banana book," the youngs' book of all previous helpxer commentary of their experiences here. tonight we had a huge bonfire, burning all of the brambles that we heaved and hoed over the fenceline, all the ivy roots that we so committedly pulled from their pieces of earth surrounding the property. it was a large fire, and we drank the mulled wine and ate pancakes with nutella and homemade walnut butter and blackberry apple jam and butter...

i am feeling so sad to leave...i grew quite attached to being here, to being a part of this wonderful family, to leah and julia, and to this simplified way of life. it's been nourishing to stay put for a couple of weeks. today carson and i took a precious walk with mhairi down the green line and at one point she said "shoes!" and we took her out of her pram and walked with her...she grabbed one of each of our hands and the three of us walked down the trail, saying "woo hoo!" and "animals!" and "bramble!" and "mommy!" and "carson!" and "flower!" as she picked up leaves and acorns and tromped down the trail. it almost made me cry. how is it that you truly start appreciating where you are sometimes just as you are about to leave. i wished i had another week here to revel in being here. so often i'm comparing or waiting to get to the next place or longing for what i left behind. i'm thankful that i was able to really enjoy being here these past few days and let myself integrate into being present where i am. this is one of my best lessons and experiences of our trip so far, and my experience here will enhance the rest of our journey for sure.

carson and i have found a wonderful joy in this community, much laughter and fun just getting to know new people and spending so much time with them. last night we took a walk with julia and were all talking about travel and how much we love it but how HARD it is to miss people we love so much from home, to be away from them while we discover...and then we keep meeting new people to love and to be with and to leave and to miss...i want to keep remembering that "home is where you are," as my friend floyd told me once right before i left for heartwood, and to continue to carry all my homes with me and to keep letting new places become home for me, again and again and again, and to let my definition of community expand, to let my definition of family expand, infinitely. why hold that back? why hold back any part of myself? why hold back laughter or the expression of who i am?

tonight as the sun set a little white van pulled up, and at last, the goat cheese van had arrived (we'd been missing it the past two weeks)....up pulled the cutest little van who's doors opened to reveal a full back cab full of goat cheese....logs and fresh chevre and pepper chevre and shallot chevre and chevre with fruite compote and chevre with salmon...we bought a little bit and it was oh so charming and tasty.

tomorrow morning we have breakfast and then carson, leah and i leave with colin for barcelona...we're stopping in toulouse for tea and then i think we're making it to barcelona in the evening. i'm not sure what our internet access will be for the next few days (or few weeks for that matter, i don't think we will have internet at our homestay in Italy)....but we'll write when we can and we'll take lots of pictures and we'll think of all of you often and send you our love...feel free to write to us and let us know that you're listening! ( this week we're going to 6 countries with 6 languages! (france/spain/slovakia/austria/slovenia/italy)!!! wow!

thank you for reading!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

sunset walk

a walk up our favorite little road this evening...
1. julia, mel & cars
2. little fairy like bugs flying in the sun
3. julia & melissa
4. who else?
5. our shadows

pictures of our book!

here are some of our page-a-day paintings!
1 & 2: galway
3: paris
4 & 5: berthegon, france

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

an assortment

1. an angel in nashville
2. the prized kombucha our first day in ireland at cafe bar deli in cork
3. the park near cite universite in paris, idyllic
4. the view of paris from montmarte and the sacre coeur...right where the man in the movie amelie ran up the stairs to look through the telescope to find his photo album!
5. paris at night with moving hands

a day of posting pictures

there are many more pictures below in previous posts....i'm trying to post a bunch while i have access to unlimited internet and computers that already have the contents of my camera on them!

1. our special things at kilronan hostel on inishmore
2. the pantheon in paris...we were just walking around the night we got there and came upon was unreal, almost like a mirage or a painting, to see this huge beautiful old building just standing there like that, all lit up in the night
3. the moulin rouge...just up that hill is the best chocolate croissant in the world, montmarte, the sacre coeur, a beautiful view of paris....
4. melissa at the arc de triomphe
5. carson looking cute in galway

yes, more pics

1. the painting i did of where we live
2. where we've been living, the former berthegon train station!
3. bramble the goat
4. the cutest baby in the world

pictures from the market yesterday

1. julia, carson, and leah at the market
2. the beloved pain au chocolat & croissant
3. spices at the market
4. €1 for all that celery!
5. the master bread baker's booth

berthegon photos 2

1. church in sauvigny
2. look at those brambles we cleared!
3. hay bale sunset
4. the road up from berthegon that we walk on for the sunset
5. a sunset over fields

france photos 1

these are some scenes from our bikerides around the berthegon area

markets are the heart of france

today was my favorite day we've had in a while...we woke up early in the cold morning (frost on the grass!) to drive to loncloitre, the town 10km away, for their once-a-month-first-monday market.  it was absolutely huge!  it took up the whole town center, rows and rows of intertwining booths with fresh produce (celery root, carrots, potatoes, endives, small onions, garlic braids, cabbages, lettuce, pumpkins, and the hugest bunch of leaved celery we've ever seen, carson had to buy it because it was so amazing for only 1€!  we'll post a picture...), lots of boucherie and charcuterie booths with cured meats, sausages, etc., fromagers, little wine bars with glasses of rose poured to enjoy there; apples galore, patissiers and boulangers....we did enjoy a couple of delicious chocolate croissants, and a couple of other treats....fresh cooked foods like sausage sandwiches, a huge vat of seafood paella, etc....clothes, shoes, boots, working tools, parfumes, fresh fish st ands....the most surprising and exotic of which was a live eel booth, with three or four containers of live black eels slithering on top of each other...when it was time, they snapped the eels head on the corner of the cooker, and then grilled it fresh for waiting customers!  needless to say, we didn't try that delicacy.... :p  we did get an amazing loaf of bread, made by a master bread maker, and it may be the best bread we've ever had....we nearly devoured the entire thing at lunch even though it was so will be nice to have a break from all the cheese and bread we consume constantly!
we walked around for about 3 hours (cars, julia, leah and i) and had so much fun!  there were cages of chickens for sale, ducks, geese, pigs, ponys, and other little birds, horse saddles, CDs, imports, and a wonderful "tout 2€" booth where all the hats and scarves and gloves were only that much each.  i was missing this type of festivity and community here, as we could find it in paris every day on rue moufftard.  i love wandering in markets and all the smells, vegetables, people, new things to explore and enjoy.  we'll post some pictures soon from the market and more of berthegon and la gare.  only two more days here until we venture off again...we both feel bittersweet about it and feel like we're leaving a little home here....already we've been here two weeks and feel quite close with the family and the other helpxers we're living with.  mhairi finally started saying carson's name and it is SO CUTE.  it's her new favorite word! "carson, ca rson, carson" all day....when i walked down this morning she said "mel" and then "carson?!" over and over, not being able to wait until he walked in the door.  i've never enjoyed hearing his name so much, and it's already my favorite male name in the world :)
the leaves have finally started changing here, yellows and some bright reds, and yet we head south once again, evading fall all the was so sad to leave vermont knowing what was to come of the fall color...i wonder if we'll ever see any...hopefully in austria or in italy if we're lucky! 

Sunday, November 4, 2007

opening doors

unfolding plans....
we are going to leave berthegon a week early because we met a scottish man who is helpxing down the road, who has a little camper rv/truck, and is driving to spain....sooo we are going with him, and leah (another helpexer that we are living with now) on a roadtrip through france to toulouse, and over to barcelona!  how exciting...we'll drive all day on thursday and get to barcelona in the evening...we're going to spend the weekend in barcelona.  last night we were looking at tickets to italy, and then thought, well where else could we fly (ryanair has such good deals) and we decided to fly into vienna be there for a couple of days, and then take the train down to bled, slovenia to visit carson's uncle, and then go to venice, and then take the train down to cecina, italy (in the tuscany region) for our next help exchange experience on the 18th....  suddenly adventure and seeing new places and three new countries added to our travels from the blessin g of the roadtrip! 
we've been steadily clearning blackberry brambles for four days straight, there's a huge burn pile in the yard now (hopefully we'll get a picture of it before we burn it down on wednesday, i'll post it here) and we're all a bit tired of that gnarly plant!  (but much more skilled at removing it now). 
will write again soon!
"you are one of the most important characters in the history of the world. the gifts you have to give are so fantastic, it would be a crime for you to be stingy in doling them out. the lives of everyone you know will become steadily richer if you can manage simply to be yourself in their presence. act as if every move you make will send ripples of influence to theends of the earth, ultimately affecting everyone alive." -rob brezsny-

Friday, November 2, 2007

photos from france

1. a view of saires, with the sunflower fields in the foreground, and the church steeple pointing up.
2. a view of our house in the distance (it is an old railroad station, la gare berthegon)
3. the old remains of the windmill at their other property in coussay, there are also several old caves that you can walk into, probably from the 14th century they think, and a cellar under the house where a little bat lives
4. a common view of the fields around here (beautiful!)
5. the old castle grounds at richelieu, a town we visited last saturday

wherever you go, there you are

hello from berthegon, france! after over a month of traveling around every few days, we've been in one little part of france now for the last week and a half. we are in mid/south-western france, just south of the loire valley, on a little piece of property near a small, 300 person town called berthegon. in the backyard of our house is a green-line (la ligne verte) that used to be the's now a 30 something kilometer long stretch of trail that is great for walking, biking etc. we go on walks and bikerides every day after we do our work (so far, combined, we've laid wood floors, sanded them, done plasterboarding over a cieling, nailed in walls, cleaned out rooms, moved beds, cooked dinners, cleaned dishes and kitchens, hung long curtains, pulled brambles and blackberries and ivy , fed goats and geese and chickens, taken the baby for a walk in the stroller...all sorts of things! it's been interesting to be so stationary and local after traveling such vast distances so frequently....vermont/montreal/new york/nashville/ny/ireland/france...

the countryside here is beautiful....i've never lived so rural before. the nearest supermarket is in a town called loincloitre which is a 10km bikeride away. another town is 5 km away, mont sur guesnes, and so far every time we've gone the bakery has been closed, either because it's a wednesday, or because of a holiday, or all saint's day, or halloween, etc. though today, the little white bread van pulled up, it honks loudly outside the gate and leah and i sprinted up to it with our euros....i got carson and i a pain au chocolate, so delicious! the other day while we were out at the youngs' other property in coussay, the meat van came's a huge white van that drives around to all the houses, the side draws up and inside are all fresh cuts of meat and sausages, pates, etc. there's also supposedly a goat cheese van, but i have not seen it yet. quite nice to have fresh foods delivered to your door though!

there are some dead sunflower fields, corn fields, much tilled dirt, wide arching fields, little towns scattered between; saires with it's tall pointed church steeple, and the town we found yesterday where the cemetary is full of fresh potted chrysanthemums (all saints/all souls day honoring) and a startling barking dog outside a little frech restaurant run out of someone's house, the special of the night le langue boeuf (beef tongue, no thanks!). there are hunters in the woods and barking hounds, which is a little unsettling. most of the towns near us are residential, old stone, with narrow sidewalks and churches that have a service maybe once a month, maybe once every four months. we sleep up on the third floor in our own room, are both reading epic novels that are each over 1000 pages (me, shogun, and carson, jonathan strange and mr norrell, two of kira's favorites!). we are learning much about the scottish language and all the different words that english evolved in scotland and america, different pronounciations, etc (always interesting dinner conversation).... mhairie (the 17 month old we live with) has just started saying carson and i's names...she is shy to say them, but repeats her brother adam's name about every third word. it's amazing to live so closely with someone so little (and so cute!) she loves my necklaces and rings and says "nec lacs" and "ring!" so cutely and so i have to hold my head close to her so she can touch the little bird necklace and the orange necklace with her little hands.

we are arranging our plans for after this...we leave in less than two weeks. we are going to have a few days travel to italy, and then we're going to do another helpexchange in the tuscany region of italy, near the coast, by a town called cecina, working on a large property with an italian family pruning olive trees and working with horses and golden retrievers! after that we will explore italy a bit, hopefully be able to see carson's uncle bill in slovenia, and then head to thailand! we've been looking at plane tickets online....the warm weather sounds very nice. we'll actually be able to afford to buy clothes and stay in nicer lodging than hostels for much cheaper! i think helpxing is one of the only affordable ways to be in europe now for a frugal american, with the exchange rate and all, as long as you don't mind working a bit!

i think we're going to head to town now to pick up a few things....i miss you all! today i was dreaming of stumptown coffee and giving morgan a hug, he's been in my dreams two nights in a row!