Can’t

I wanted to talk about one of my least favorite words today – can’t. It’s such a small, seemingly harmless word. We use it all the time. And yet, it can be an incredibly debilitating word. It’s one of those words – like fail and hate – that we adults, sadly, teach our kids. It can be a dream killer. It’s also one of those words that directly gets in the way of change.

Can’t and I go way back. I’ve heard this word a lot in my life, though thankfully almost never from my parents. “You can’t get into Stanford.” “You can’t get a graduate Biology degree without doing ‘wet’ biology.” “You can’t get an internship at Microsoft your first year here [in a graduate design program].” (In fairness, the latter was an example of can’t’s close relative, you won’t be able to. And so on. These were all statements from folks like high school principals, department chairs, and deans.

Fortunately, can’t is a word that has the power to motivate me beyond almost any other. I’ve never accepted the power of its hold. It’s something I’d like to help our young adults learn. Like many people though, I need to do a better job myself using it.

There are really two ways to look at can’t. One is with the meaning you are not able to. It’s the dangerous one I point to above. The other is I don’t want you to. For example, “You can’t go out until your homework is done.”

I have to admit that I use the latter form fairly often. The problem with this is that it gets the word can’t into frequent use. Even in this context, I think I tend to overuse it. If I truly want to treat my young adults as adults, I should let them have the choice about when they do their homework, right? We try to do this as much as possible with Aidan and Nev. It mostly works. Mostly.

It’s the first version of can’t though that really irks me. If you watch most younger kids, they seem to have an immunity to can’t. They’ll keep trying something until they figure it out. Sure, there’s frustration at times. But I don’t think that the frustration stems from an innate belief that the kids truly would not be able to do what they are trying. They just want it to happen quickly, but that’s another story.

If someone else, especially an adult, tells them that they can’t do it, that’s where can’t can become disempowering. In a way, it gives someone permission to stop trying and give up. And then they start using can’t themselves and come to believe that they really can’t do something. What an insidious cycle.

I started thinking about can’t recently because I’ve been hearing it a lot at work. Too much. We are going through a transition involving a lot of necessary change. As I mentioned in my last post, most people really dislike change. That’s when I started realizing the broader impact of can’t.

When people start saying that they can’t do something, they (perhaps unintentionally) give others permission to not try. And when you are collectively going through a process of difficult change, can’t makes it easy to not try. It helps people resist change. And that can be infectious.

Conversely, I didn’t hear can’t very much in the startups I worked in, at least not in terms of our ability to do something. In fact, if it wasn’t possible to do something, we’d often just find a different way. Startups are the children of the corporate world. Anything is possible. Somewhere along the line, established companies, like many adults, seem to lose that.

Change needs a fertile environment of the possible, much like startups. Can’t gets in the way. You don’t hear dreamers and visionaries using the word very much.

The destructive power of can’t on the process of change is a newly-found realization for me. Maybe change can be helped along a bit with the elimination of a single word. I’ll give it a try. It’s a nicely “off path” strategy. Pura vida.

Change

At the very beginning of our adventure I wrote about complexity and change: when there is a lot of complexity involved in something, it’s hard to change. As we’ve gone through our transition from our Costa Rican adventure back to Seattle, and as I’ve started working for a company that is itself in transition, I’ve thought about change (a lot) and how to think about it. It’s a bit fitting that I return to that subject now as I transition the blog from the way we were “intentionally off path” before and the way we are “intentionally off path” now. If you noticed, this is the first post where I didn’t start with a sentence that snuck in a link to “our new adventure.” Change is good. But not everyone thinks so.

Perhaps because my brain is back in a more creative, problem-solving space every day now, I started thinking about how to categorize change. It worked in my noodling on engagement so I figured I’d try that again. The model is really simple. It’s a triangle – ironically, the most stable of shapes. And here, I’m looking at how people approach change.

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The Ridiculously Simple Triangle of Change

Resisting Change

People generally don’t like change and resist it. I see it all of the time in what I do. Change can be scary. Change takes effort. And it sometimes takes knowledge I don’t have. It’s easier to just stay the same. It’s safer not to change. It’s comfortable and safe. What happens if… And so on.

Is it any wonder why three of the biggest causes of stress involve major change – a new job or loss of one, a marriage or divorce, and moving? For many people, these don’t come around that often. Even if you are “practiced” in change, they can be very difficult. Often in these cases, though, what adds to the stress is that these changes may not be choices fully under one’s control.

Even when change would be extremely beneficial, some of us still resist it. It explains things like people staying in dead-end jobs they dislike, or abusive relationships. It might even explain the pattern of Italian men who still want to live with their mothers well into their thirties (52% according to one report). Sometimes, a well-known, familiar, if very unsatisfying situation is far less scary than what might be “out there”.

Even if we resist change, many of us will change if the alternative of staying where we are, in our view, is much worse. The metaphor that comes up in business a lot is the “burning platform.” It’s a situation ‒ a crisis ‒ that is so scary that it forces change.

The origin of this story, as I learned in writing this, came from Daryl Connor. There was a tragic oil platform fire in 1988. People who were on that platform had to essentially choose certain death on the platform or choose possible death by jumping into the freezing water. It’s been used a lot to describe situations where a company’s business situation is so dire that it must embrace change. As an example, you might remember Stephen Elop’s email to Nokia employees after he moved there from Microsoft and had to turn around the failing business.

The burning platform situation is a bit extreme, but it does highlight just how wed we can be to things remaining the same. I find it ironic that we as human beings, arguably the most adaptable of species, resist change so often. I think it’s because we are out of practice – but more on that in a bit.

Trying Change

The middle layer of the triangle brings up an interesting conundrum. Is “trying something new” a way of embracing change? I think so. I’m talking about human behavior here, so I do think it applies. After all, some of us go to the same stores and restaurants every time. Others of us actually like to try something new every now and again.

It boils down to the same situation: the “tried and true,” safe choice or the new, unknown, and perhaps scary, one. The basic behavior is fundamentally similar whether the situation is dramatically important or much lighter.

I find it compelling that children try new things constantly. That’s one of the ways they learn, whether it’s trying a new food or a big scary trick at a skateboard park (not that that‘s ever happened!) Kids also aren’t familiar with the concept of “failure” – until we adults teach it to them. You’re just trying stuff and sometimes it’s better and sometimes not.

This experimental attitude that is fundamental to kids sadly seems to get lost somewhere on our journey to adulthood. And like many things about our bodies, when we don’t keep something in shape through practice, well, it gets a little flabby. Somewhere along the way we reduce our appetite for taking risks and trying new things. Things that could lead to change.

Risk is indeed at the heart of change. Years ago I read a fascinating article about researchers using the TV game show Deal or No Deal to study economics (thanks to the Internet, I actually found it again here). In this worldwide show, contestants start with nothing and then choose among many suitcases, each of which has money. Each round, they can choose to stay with what they have, or trade for a different one. When people have nothing, they take risks. Then, when they have a lot to lose, they don’t. The same behavior that got them the money in the first place makes them very conservative and cautious. The researchers had a perfect “sandbox” for studying and explaining why we often make the choices we do.

As we get older, we do have a lot more to risk. Our appetite for risk, and for change, goes down sharply. We stop taking bigger risks and we stop making big changes, even though we might continue to take and make smaller ones. We “settle in”. But, this is something that we can change through a little practice. With apologies to Nev and Aidan (because they hear this a lot), to get good at something, you need to practice.

And when you practice change a good deal, the top layer of the triangle isn’t so daunting.

Seeking Change

As I think about change, “seeking change” isn’t about being satisfied with trying new things or embracing change when you need to. It’s a mindset. And it’s one shared by most kids. In my view, it’s a worthy state to achieve.

There is an element of constant exploration at this level of change. For any early explorer, whether the very early people who confronted a boundless ocean to see what’s across it to the brave folks who embrace “the final frontier” of space, exploration, by its very nature, is at peace with change.

Kids, too, seem to be in a constant exploratory state. It’s in their nature. It’s one of many things I think we can learn from them.

I’m not advocating that we all make major life-changing decisions every day. I am suggesting that developing a comfortable relationship with change has a number of advantages. One of the best in my mind is that it keeps us open to differences and learning new things. And that is something our world needs a lot more of.

I have heard a lot of people, inside and outside of business, use the adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” as a rationale not to do something – often something that might lead to change. I never liked that phrase. It is so…static. Permanent. I work in innovation and that phrase pretty much kills the soul of innovation. More than anything, it set’s the bar of acceptability at “not broken.” There is so much more beyond that.

And looking at this simple triangle model, the way to get there is pretty straightforward. Start in the middle and try something new. Practice. Rinse and repeat. It does get easier.

This might sound a little too simplistic coming from someone who along with his family left everything and spent a year in another country. But it wasn’t always this easy.

Many years ago I worked at Stanford after graduation. I was married (the first time). I felt stuck in a relationship that wasn’t working but had a great job. I even turned down some pretty nice jobs because I enjoyed just going out and playing soccer at lunch most days. It was easy. I was settling. I didn’t want to change what had become very comfortable. I was open-minded to change, but not motivated.

Then, my marriage ended and I decided to move halfway across the country, quit my job, and go to graduate school. I met my soul mate and proposed 7 weeks later. Perhaps it was my “burning platform.” I’ve never looked back and now have a more fulfilling life than I ever could have imagined.

In the succeeding years, Deb and I “practiced” change a good deal. And it got easier. It was one of the big reasons we wanted to take the young adults to Costa Rica. Change isn’t something to be afraid of.

Now, in many ways, things seem to be settling into our pre-Costa Rica life again. Most of the big changes have been made. I’m not worried about becoming complacent though. We all, I think, have emerged from our adventure with a more flexible mindset about things. The more I think about it, the more I see change built into much of what we do over the next year and beyond. There are so many things to try and explore. It’s almost like we were kids again. Pura vida.

Transitions

Change has certainly been something constant while on our new adventure in Costa Rica. Now that we are back, we are experiencing lots of change in the transitions each of us is going through as we “readjust” to routine and life here in Seattle. After what we’ve experienced though, change itself is easier for all of us and very exciting. That was a key benefit we hoped that Aidan and Nev got from our experience. I’m not sure though if they realize how differently they – actually all of us – approach things now.

I started my transition back in August really. That’s when I started reaching out to folks and looking for a new job. I had a pretty firm set of things I was and was not looking for in my ideal new job. Perhaps that’s why has taken several months to find my place.

Leaving for a year, and especially having the opportunity to spend so much time with my family, made me think hard about what type of job I wanted to have that would take me away from them for so many hours a day. Deb and I had the luxury of spending all of our time together. We love working on things together. That’s why it’s a big deal for me to transition back to seeing co-workers for more hours per day in many cases than Deb.

I didn’t feel compelled to return to any sort of “ladder climb” in a company. I could have managed a large team again, but I wanted something different. Ideally I wanted to find a place where I could be more “hands on.” I wanted to do something that had benefit beyond corporate success. So I took a position as an “individual contributor” in a company and industry that will get me right back to my roots in helping to evolve education.

A year or more ago I probably would have worried a bit about taking a “step down” from a bigger position and title. Not now. I feel solidly centered on how I want to spend the precious time I have. For me it’s about the “why”, not the “what” or “how much.” And I expect this ride to be even more thrilling than the previous things I’ve had the privilege of doing.

Deb is choosing not to return to the corporate world for now. True to her nature, she has a wild idea about want she wants to do next. That transition is far more in her nature and will include being out in nature a lot more. Deb is not ready to talk about it yet here in more detail. It will take some explaining to do, hopefully in a future post.

Nev has decided to go to back to public (high) school – but not just any high school. Nev enjoyed home schooling and was doing well. As we mentioned awhile back, a large public middle school was a nightmare for Nev with all of the posturing, bullying, cliques, and stress. We were a little surprised about the interest in going back to a public school, but this one could not be more fitting for Nev.

Nova is indeed a Seattle public school but it is very alternative. When we first drove up for a visit, we saw a bunch of students in the parking lot and a lot of diverse hair colors, piercings, and tattoos. This was clearly a place where people felt comfortable being who they were and Nev said that it felt like “home.”

But Nova is not alternative because of the students. Rather, I think it simply attracts more alternative students. Nova is run more like a college where you choose your classes and everyone’s schedule may be different. They have some incredibly interesting and non-mainstream classes like Experimental Animation, Feminism and Fashion, and Naked Truth on Stereotypes. Students and faculty work together to make the school a very open and accepting forum for ideas and place for people. And the teachers are as refreshing as the students.

Transitioning from a year in Costa Rica being homeschooled to even an alternative high school will be a big transition, but Nev is ready and excited.

Aidan, as usual, is open to everything and excited about trying new things. He and Deb are attending a home school cooperative program Mondays and Fridays where different parents teach different classes and where Aidan can meet some new friends. That leaves lots of time for doing some activities Aidan and Deb work out. It’s a bit different approach to unschooling, but it will be a fun, new adventure for Aidan.

The most interesting thing to me about our transition back isn’t what we each are doing; it’s how our general perspectives have changed, especially Aidan and Nev’s. We are living much more simply. We don’t need much “stuff.” The young adults are taking on much more responsibility. And change is something we take in stride pretty easily.

I expect that all of this didn’t simply come from living in Costa Rica. Some of it would have happened naturally, I’m sure. I think our experience though may have hastened and facilitated much of it.

We each have our own work, school, and life transitions back to the world we knew. On the surface, they seem fairly normal compared to our previous year. But they are all very definitely, and very intentionally, “off-path”. I hope our off-path perspectives don’t dim as we return to reality. I don’t expect they ever will, though, and that’s a good thing. Pura vida.

Stuff Part 2

We have returned from our new adventure and have been settling in to our new (rental) place here in Seattle after our wonderful year away with our young adults. A year ago in October I wrote about “stuff” – specifically how we sold most of our stuff and how, while it was initially hard, it was also very freeing. As I reflect on our holidays this year, I realize how different all of our perspectives (still) are on “stuff.”

To begin, and for a little context, when we went to Costa Rica, we radically reduced the amount of stuff we brought to just a few suitcases each, and much of it was technology. When we spent 5 weeks backpacking in Europe, we reduced even further to one carry-on size suitcase each with everything we would need to wear for any occasion. We all got used to wearing the same things most of the time. Not a lot has actually changed now that we are back in Seattle and that actually surprised us.

When we first arrived I went and got several of the very few boxes of clothes, shoes, etc. that we had in storage. We picked out what we needed – mostly cold weather gear as you might imagine! – and I ended up returning much of it. Even though we sold most of our clothes and other stuff, we still found that we kept more than we really needed. And we are all happy not having a large closet of clothes. It’s just one of several lasting changes we’ve gone through as a result of our travels.

We decided not to return to our house in Seattle. We had some good friends as renters in our house and they were interested in staying. In a sort of “karmic pay it forward”, we rented the house of some friends who decided to travel around the world with their kids for a year. We are now out in a small rural town called Fall City and we love the simplicity (and the commute could be a lot worse). Simpler seems to be working for us.

Christmas itself was also a very different affair for us. Like many folks we know, our past Christmas holidays have been filled with Christmas trees, lights, ornaments, and lots of presents as well as good food, family time and fun experiences. This year we kept the latter three.

It’s not that we have become anti-Christmas per se – it’s just that things matter differently to us. For example, we didn’t have ornaments and so as a family we decided that we also didn’t need a tree. It seemed odd to us to just cut down a tree and buy it to sit empty in our house.

We all saw lot of holiday shopping at the several mile long “strip mall” near us in Issaquah. We saw all of the stressed, often frantic, and sometimes rude shoppers. It just didn’t feel right to us.

We decided that we weren’t going to get a bunch of “stuff” as presents. We bought less and made more. And what we did get focused more on experiences – as has our entire last year – than on the “stuff” itself.

I had mentioned that Nev and Aidan had become interested in this “physical” fantasy gamed called Warhammer while we were in Firenze (Florence). The pieces all tend to be really expensive so instead of buying a large battle board, I built them one out of wood and insulation foam and then painted them. (Don’t worry Gretchen & Rodrigo. These have felt on the bottom.)

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These boards are 2’x2’ and so of course I had to build a piece of “furniture” to keep them safe 🙂  Meanwhile, Deb spent many hours painting the small Warhammer figures for them.

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This all gave Nev and Aidan the ability to play a live game with each other – and have many fun experiences. We also bought two new family games so we could spend more time together playing games. We still had the 3 we brought to Costa Rica and it was time to add just a little diversity!

Nev created some art for each of us. The pictures Nev gave Deb and I are priceless. He captured both of us so well.

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deb andy xmas drawing 1

When we shared presents, they were fewer and much more meaningful. And we focused much of our time hanging out and playing games together. It’s likely to be one of our more memorable Christmas’s.

When I was at Teague, I did some research on travelers and one of the most poignant quotes I heard was “Travel changes you.” It is certainly true in our case. It often takes Deb and I stepping back a moment sometimes to see how much we’ve changed. Not needing a lot of “stuff” is just one of many. I’ll probably write about a few of the other ways that I see that we’ve changed in other posts.

Frankly, I wasn’t really sure whether I’d keep writing this blog. After all, we are no longer abroad in Costa Rica, nor traveling, and it’s likely that Nev and Aidan will be attending some form of school in the coming months (though very alternative forms). But what I realize is that despite the fact that we are indeed back and that I’ll be starting a job soon, we are still very much “intentionally off path” thanks to our wonderful experiences together this past year. And being “off path”, in the middle of so many here in Seattle who are “on the path”, feels pretty invigorating. We’re not sure what this year will bring, but we are sure it will continue to be different for all of us. Pura vida.

Barcelona

We are officially off now on the second stage of our new adventure – Europe for 5 weeks of fun, unschooling and new experiences. Our first stop on this journey is the city of Barcelona.

We had a long, two-legged flight to get here which included a full dash between two very far gates at Schipol airport in Amsterdam. It started our travel journey and warmed up the young adults to five weeks of travel. Fortunately we settled into our nice apartment in Barcelona and recovered fairly well from jet lag.

Getting to our apartment, we got a reminder of how important security is here with all of our stuff. We had 4 locks on the door, three of which were multiple bar deadbolts. Barcelona, like many cities, has a number of opportunistic thieves as well as regular break-ins of uninhabited apartments.

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Our Apartment’s Door Locks

This prompted two of the first key discussions with the young adults about travelling. The first was how important it was to always keep your bag (backpack) in sight and even if you are sitting with it, to wrap a strap around your ankle. They got that one down pretty quickly. The other one, which they are still working on, is that in travelling, everyone is responsible for their own bag and their own stuff. So, for example, I won’t magically know where someone’s socks are. J

We spent the first few days recovering and exploring the city and its wonderful restaurants. Barcelona is an amazing city – a fusion of old world Europe and modern Europe. We stayed most of our stay in the older area known as El Born, which I highly recommend. The buildings were almost a century old and the narrow streets, fountains, and open spaces were wonderful.DSC00029

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Some Elements in El Born

Tapas are a highlight of Barcelona and “Chef” Aidan was very interested in trying all of the different tapas. We started with Double Zero, a sushi tapas place. It turned out to be one of the best places we’ve tried and where we had the most incredible, and well-deserved, dessert medley. This prompted Aidan to come up with an idea of creating a dessert tapas restaurant. We think it’s a good one!

Asian Albondingas Double Zero Dessert Sampler

Double Zero and its Amazing Tapas

We had another memorable experience at an Argentine grill.

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Our Argentine Grill Experience

I personally was very excited to rediscover Patxaran. It is this wonderful liqueur that is distinctly Basque. I had a good friend from Barcelona who once brought me a bottle. He said it was very hard to find outside Northern Spain and extremely rare in the US (at least a few decades ago). I had tried to find it a few times without success. Somehow I managed to remember the name (and exotic spelling) and found it here! Everywhere. What a treat. Patxaran is a liqueur created with various herbs blended with anise.

The Spanish timetable was very different from Costa Rica. Everyone seems to get up later. Most shops don’t open until noon and when they are not open, they all have these roll-down panels that are covered with graffiti. All of the graffiti has a creative flair and some are spectacular from an artistic perspective. Here’s just one example (some better ones didn’t make it).

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Graffiti on a Shop Roll-Down Door

At night, it is almost as if you are in a different city. The shops open after noon but stay open until very late. All of these roll-down steel doors turn into fantastic shop windows, restaurants, pubs and heladerias (ice cream shops). The streets become a hive of activity. There are lots of people wandering around and the energy is palpable. They city stays this way late into the night. The most crowded dinner times are 9-10m and that’s when you see the peak of activity. We adapted fairly quickly to the Spanish way of life though – getting up later, eating late, and staying out late. This actually served Aidan and I well for a side adventure after Barcelona which I’ll tell you about another time: Portaventura.

One of our favorite things about Barcelona is the ability to get around. Without cars. Like most European cities, they have a good and well-organized metro system within the city and an excellent train system between cities and countries. It’s a dominant form of travel for Barcelonans. The bus system, which we did not try, seemed very ubiquitous and simple. The surprise though was the system of bikes. They have a whole “subscription” bike system that is somewhat similar to the various emerging “subscription” car systems in various US cities like Zipcar. They have “banks” of bikes at most major intersections and you swipe a card, grab a bike, and then return it to another bank. The bikes have special bars that “plug in” to a simple locking system. I’ve not seen a better version of this implemented.

Deb and I had several logistics-related things to do when we first got here (like getting Eurail passes validated, getting train tickets, trying out the metro, etc.) and so Aidan and Nev had more time to hang in the apartment and “study up” a bit on Spanish history, the city of Barcelona, Gaudi and Montserrat – all things we planned to include in our Barcelona “curriculum.”

What became clear to us pretty quickly, though we should have anticipated this based on Nev and Aidan’s history/religion project this summer, was that like most kids and young adults, reading about history was boring for them. Indeed, that’s why we wanted to come here – to see some of the incredible historical places of Spain and Italy. It was a bit like digging a deep splinter out trying to get Aidan to read about Sagrada Familia and other places we would explore. Deb and I would be in lines for tickets and Aidan would text us about how much more he had to read.

We settled on having him find some YouTube videos while we were away. He tends to learn better when he can hear and see vs. read. What was pleasantly surprising, though, was that both Nev and Aidan liked it better when we would tell them things about history orally.

We had some great discussions about religion, especially Catholicism, organized religion, and even what a saint is. I noted for the record that Brazil is rightly affronted because they only have two saints and tens more in the queue for review.

We also had some great related discussions about why people value gold (which is a tough one to really get into as it is not obvious indeed), why currencies are based on it, and also supply and demand economics. These weren’t incredibly deep or thorough by any means. But they were engaging and that was more important to us. Nev even said that one of Deb’s descriptions of Roman history was clearer and better than anything anyone could read in a boring textbook.

In the end, we all have been learning a lot about learning history here, but more importantly, I think we and the young adults are learning about how to learn about history. Nev and Aidan are clearly digital native. They learn differently and have different experiences of learning based on the technology and other tools they are exposed to. We even had a great discussion in a cab about this.

I basically said that if they have kids, their kids will probably be experiencing holographic information and “shows” the way they watch YouTube and Deb and I watched TV in our day. They noted that we are tech savvy and “get” YouTube, but I pointed out that even so, one tends to fall back on what’s comfortable – the media one grows up with. It was a surprisingly insightful conversation, like one we might have at a tech conference. This all “counts” as unschooling in our book, by the way.

After a day of logistics, Deb and I stopped at a Catalan wine festival. We love wine, especially Spanish wines, and so it was wonderful to experience Catalan wines. We had some amazing, and generously-poured, wines and some incredible cheese. It was a fantastic date night.

Catalan Wine Festival

The Catalan Wine Festival

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona)

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona-Style)

This brings up another interesting thing about Barcelona, the heart of Catalonia. As you may know, Catalan wines, like much of Catalonia, is similar but very distinct from Spain. The Catalonians take very definite pride in this. Catalan, as a language, is similar to Spanish, but then again about as different as Portuguese and Italian are from Spanish.

When we arrived, all of the signs had as a primary language Catalan. The secondary languages were Spanish or English. Everyone speaks Catalan first and many seem to prefer English to Spanish. It took us a bit to adjust but we can begin to read Catalan now. Mostly. As we travel to Seville, I expect our Spanish will be more useful.

What’s pretty amazing about Barcelona and Catalonia is the intense national pride – Catalonian, not Spanish. You see Catalan flags everywhere, hanging from balconies, on cars, and on futbol jerseys. Of course, FC Barcelona is here and you really can’t go anywhere without seeing a store or a person sporting FC Barcelona clothing. While very European, and certainly similar to Spain, Barcelona definitely feels like a different country. We may be wrong; we’ll see shortly as we adventure to Seville.

We took a wonderful little trip to Güell Park in Barcelona. It is a work of Antoni Gaudi, the famous architect of La Sagrada Familia which I’ll get to later. Tickets to the sculpture park were sadly sold out, but we took a stroll through the grounds which he also designed. It was an enchanting experience. We sat and listened to harp music and then explored the structures he created. It gives you some insight to the way he integrated nature into his architecture.

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Güell Park

After the young adults had studied up a bit, we took a day trip to Montserrat, the famous monastery up in the mountains. Wow. The monastery and mountains were incredible. I’ve never seen that type of topography before.

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Montserrat

Monserrat

The trip to Monserrat involved a train, a tram, and a funicular. It was a bit of a trip, but well worth it. I’m not sure if I was stunned more by the mountains or the monastery. The monastery was beautifully minimal from the outside. True to most Catholic churches, it was beautiful and opulent inside.

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Montserrat Monastery

The mountains were mesmerizing to me. They were so natural and yet so alien given the sedimentary rock composition and the very organic forms the mountains took. The architect Gaudi, whom I’ll mention more in a bit, must have been inspired by these mountains, especially as he was an aficionado of nature. I could have spent all day just in those mountains taking pictures.

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Montserrat Mountains

On our final day in Barcelona we visited one of the most magical places I have ever been – La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece. That is saying a lot given that it is a church and given that I have had the fortune to see many magical places.

I truly don’t know where to begin, so I will begin with Gaudi. He started this architectural feat in 1882 when he was 30. He died in 1926 and had several generations of craftsman following his legacy since then to complete this great church. It should be complete mid-century. When you see the images, you’ll not only see why it has taken so long, but also what a genius he was, particularly given that this was started in the 1800’s.

La Sagrada Familia

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La Sagrada Familia

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Constant Construction

I was certainly impressed with the architecture, which took inspiration from nature as you can easily see.

Tower Stairway

Tower Stairway

Columns Inspired by Trees

Columns Inspired by Trees

Interior Columns

Interior Columns

Natural Inspiration

I was even more impressed with Gaudi’s command of math and geometry, which is also nature at its best. Imagine the columns in components ranging from 6 to 12 vertices. Now twist each of these components (e.g., an extruded – or “3D’ – dodecagon) 30 degrees. Now create a mirror image of it and superimpose the two. That gives you the geometry of one section of column.

The stained glass (a Barcelonan artists created these), statues (a Barcelonan sculptress created these), architectural details (such as the tree of life or the apostolic symbols), were all incredible. I could have spent days wandering and exploring here.

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Seal of Marc

Seal of Marc

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Turtle "Gargoyle" Sculpture

Turtle “Gargoyle” Sculpture

Architectural Elements

I was never a huge architecture geek. I was never ever moved by architecture or much else created by people. I was here.

La Sagrada Familia was a perfect end to our Barcelona adventure. Thousands of miles away we started our journey in Costa Rica, where the locals have the term “pura vida” which I’ve mentioned often. I get the sense Gaudi would appreciate that sentiment. As would much of Catalonia I expect. Pura vida.

PS: In case you like photos, I’ve included a lot more below, especially of La Sagrada Familia, Montserrat and the mountains.

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Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

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St George

St George

Looking Down a Tower

Looking Down a Tower

Turtle Column Pedastel

Turtle Column Pedestal

Spire Tops

Spire Tops

View of Barcelona construction DSC00572

Guell Park

Guell Park

Gaudi's House

Gaudi’s House in Guell Park

Guell Park

Guell Park

The Passion Facade

The Passion Facade

Transitions

Transitions

It has been several weeks since I’ve last posted about our new adventure – far too long. It’s been a crazy several weeks as we’ve returned from Costa Rica, in two groups, visited with friends, searched for jobs, and more. The whole period has been fun but really has seemed like an interlude between our initial adventure in Costa Rica and our next adventure in Europe. I’m taking some relaxing time now while in the airplane to pause, reflect, and write.

When we last left our intrepid adventurers, I had just finished speaking at Universidad VeritasExperience Design Summit, returned home, went diving with Debbie, and then I and the young adults boarded a long plane trip with most of the luggage to California. Deb was to follow in two weeks with our dogs Lucy and Isis.

The conference was a great way to end my adventure in Costa Rica and in teaching. I met some great folks there, especially the other speakers. The Summit had great energy and the only down side was saying goodbye to my fabulous students. It was one of the best and most enjoyable teaching experiences I’ve ever had. Best of luck in your final year folks!

I had a day home to both go diving and finish final packing and preparations. We had the 6 largest checked bags and 6 carry-ons that were really heavy. I had most of the technology in the carry-ons including several backup drives, batteries, rechargers, and a lot more – the kind of things that usually flag us in security for inspection. Oh yeah, we were bringing our adopted Costa Rican cat, MnM, home in a cat carrier.

The trip back was a long one. We basically went from Liberia in Costa Rica to Atlanta with a long layover to LA where we stayed overnight, slept about 4 hours and then boarded a flight for Oakland, near where my parents live.

The trip back was long but not tough, although we had a tricky moment in Costa Rican security. Knowing we had several legs and an overnight, we had packed several baggies of cat litter for MnM. Thinking back, they did look more than a little suspicious! Well, the security folks in Liberia had to take them, after asking what they were. One of the really nice agents was very sympathetic (a cat lover I assume) but we couldn’t even bring one. I was worried we’d have to deal with a kitty accident in the plane but MnM showed herself to be an awesome traveler. She didn’t have any needs on board and didn’t make a peep.

We spent the next few weeks at my parents’ house in Rodeo. We had a great long visit and I got to cook most nights and make some dishes that I couldn’t really do in Costa Rica – like jumbalaya and minestrone. It was quite a treat to be able to make things that took a long time but where I didn’t have to cook in 95°F heat!

A very large thread through my time there was looking and interviewing for jobs. I made two trips to Seattle and a few into Silicon Valley. I have several promising opportunities and I have to say that this makes me feel far more settled going off to Europe and not feeling that I have to start this process from scratch when I return.

Two weeks after we arrived in California, Deb came in with the dogs. Her trip was far more grueling. When we left for Costa Rica, there were two of us to handle the dogs and even though we had two legs, the dogs stayed in their kennels the whole time. On the way back, it was a very different story – starting with the bus ride to San Jose.

Deb had ordered a cargo van for her and the dogs, explaining that she needed an open van, not a passenger van. She confirmed it with the company a few times leading up to her trip. Murphy’s Law then intervened. What arrived was a 12 person passenger van, with all seats and no space. The kennels had to be disassembled – which is a real pain because there are about 14 locking screws on each – and then put on top of the seats. The (large) dogs had to fit between the seats and poor Isis could not lay out fully. She was stressed and so Deb had to hold or pet her the entire 5.5 hour trip to San Jose.

They were flying overnight and so it was late when they arrived. Deb had to simultaneously deal with the driver, assemble the dog kennels, manage the dogs (including letting them do their business) and deal with the bags and a long line of baggage handlers who wanted to “help.” I feel horrible we weren’t there. And yet, it was not over.

She had a stop in the LA and was surprised to learn that in customs, the dogs had to come out and she had to manage them and the luggage. It’s not pleasant because poor, stressed Isis, who is almost 14, had an accident in the crate. We were all set up to deal with that on arrival but not really between flights. I picked the exhausted trio up in San Francisco and 90 minutes later we were all at my parents’ house, Deb having gotten two 45 minute naps in her nearly 48 hour trek. She gets the über-traveler award!

Deb arrived Tuesday. We used Wednesday to pack for Europe, which was a really interesting activity.

As I mentioned in previous posts, we sold most everything before we went to Costa Rica. We only took two stowed bags and two carry-ons each with everything we needed for 10 months in Costa Rica. For Europe, we were “downsizing” to one bag each for 5 weeks. We had the young adults’ backpacking backpacks, which were carry-on size, for them. Deb and I ordered two Tortuga travel backpacks for us.

These Tortugas are amazing. They look like soft carry-ons but have a strong set of backpack straps in a compartment. They open like luggage and wear like backpacks. I was a little worried because they looked small for what we needed, but everything fit perfectly. We are carrying only a few changes of clothes for 5 weeks in Europe along with laptops, Kindles, chargers, converters, mobile battery packs, and even some nice clothes (slacks, jacket and tie for me). This is about as minimal as we can get.

I flew off to Seattle Thursday. We were all wiped out Friday. Saturday we said sad goodbyes and thanks to my parents and headed to our friends’ Tony and Joy’s house for a visit before they took us to San Francisco airport for stage 2 of our journey.

It’s been a whirlwind, but we breezed through the airport with our minimal backpacks and are ready for stage two. For the record, if the ZA (zombie apocalypse) comes, we are now set.

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The Travelers

We are starting our stage two, like stage one to Costa Rica, with varying feelings. Deb and I are super excited – but we have been to Europe before. The young adults have not and really have no idea what a place with such deep history and diverse culture has waiting for them. We are working through various levels of indifference, impatience, frustration, and boredom right now. That will change, we hope.

I’d love to say that our Nev and Aidan are very engaged and anticipating an amazing adventure, but I can’t yet. Right now, they are excited primarily by the selection of movies on the flight and the soda offerings. They can’t yet really value the experience they will have. Often though, the most profound memories and experiences come when you aren’t expecting much (or perhaps even dreading something) and yet you have an amazing experience. This is what we hope for.

Even at 10,000 feet on our way to Spain, pura vida remains with us, at least with Deb and I. We will continue to embrace this philosophy not just for the 5 weeks remaining in our adventure, but for the rest of our lives.

When I was doing research on travel for Boeing, one of the folks I talked with about travel said “travel changes you.” It certainly has for Deb and I. We hope and expect that the next 5 weeks will for our young adults as well! Pura vida!

Diving!

Deb and I have found a new passion here on our new adventure – diving! We waited awhile to do it to avoid the tourists and to wait for the incredible visibility that comes in June or so. It was worth the wait.

Deb and I completed our Open Water certification a few weeks ago and today, the day before I and the young adults leave, we completed our Advanced Open Water certification. We had the best instructor, our friend “Risky” Dave Sheppard out of Aquacenter. If you visit these shores, seek him out!

Some of the best diving in Costa Rica is off our lovely shores here in Playa Flamingo. While the Mediterranean has old wrecks and caves, Australia has the reef, and the Caribbean has reefs and wrecks, what the west pacific coast has near Playa Flamingo is an explosion of large fish and other wildlife,especially leatherback turtles.

We’ve briefly noted before that we’ve seen turtles mating, turtles swimming, a sea horse, dolphins, rays, sharks, and whales, it has become a pretty regular occurrence on our dive trips! Our last one we had our GoPro working well and captured a few treats to share here pulled from lots of video.

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My Lovely Deb All Sexy Underwater!

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day 2 andy fish 2

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day 2 trumpetfish

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fish andy

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day 2 andy fish

A Large Puffer Fish

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scorpion fish

A Very Camouflaged Scorpion Fish

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And and Octopus!

Between dives, we got to see two turtles mating.

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SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Meet the Turtles

Deb found a fun friend on dive #2 – an almaco jack. It was swimming right next to her shoulder and I had to point it out to an unaware Deb. You should hear the squeal on video 🙂 !

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big fish 1

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Deb’s New Friend

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On our return, we spotted mom and calf humpback whales. What a great sight. They played for a while in the safer inner waters by the coast.

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Humpbacks Waving Goodbye

Tomorrow will indeed be a sad day. Nev, Aidan and I leave Costa Rica for the Bay Area for three weeks. My lovely Deb follows with the girls (dogs) in two weeks. This last part of our adventure has really come upon us quickly. It hasn’t quite hit me yet. There is so much to miss, but so many new adventures to explore, including an incredible new one coming in Spain and Italy. We’ve been extremely fortunate to have been able to do this. And we know we’ll be back someday. Meanwhile, I’m off to finish final preparations and enjoy the sunset one last time here on our adventure. Pura Vida