Thursday, May 28, 2015

Finding Home: Other Voices

Today we have a wonderful post from Tamsen Schultz on the importance of home and the decisions we make to find it.

Why Having Vacation Homes Matters

Beacon Hill in Boston wasn’t home. It wasn’t even where I thought I might want to end up sometime down the road. It was (and is) a stunningly beautiful neighborhood though. With its ornate brownstones, views of the river, and proximity to the heart of Boston, it was a neighborhood I used to like to walk through when I worked for the State of Massachusetts. I’d moved to Brookline, a Boston suburb so close to the city so as to be almost indistinguishable from it, after finishing my undergraduate degree at Mount Holyoke, a women’s college about 1.5 hours west. It seems that our class split in three with most of us either moving to New York, DC, or Boston. I chose Boston because a friend had an extra room in the apartment she was sub-leasing and I was able to get a job working the field I wanted to be in (does that even happen anymore out of undergrad???).

I don’t want to pretend that I was any more intuitive than any other twenty-two year old at the time, but I will say that my four years of living in that area seemed to be one (good) coincidence after another – so much so that even a self-absorbed young adult recognized my good fortune. My college has a strong alumnae association and when I decided I wanted to go into law and conflict resolution, I found an alumna who worked in the field and a few months later I had a job working for the state. My friend found the apartment and with the apartment came a roommate who would, shortly after I moved in, introduce me to my future husband. In the meantime, I took a course on negotiation, met someone who worked for an international non-profit that ended up hiring me, then ended up working for the private foundation of one of that organization’s board members. I got married, got pregnant, and got into law school. It was a whirlwind of four years and a time and a place that holds a special spot in my heart and memories.

But it was never really home.

When I got pregnant my (and my husband’s) thoughts turned to our own families. His family was in India and we weren’t interested in moving to Mumbai. But my family was in California, a state I had always, and still, consider home.  Maybe it’s because generations of my family are from there, maybe it’s because it was where I grew up, or maybe it was because that was where family was. Most likely, it was all of the above. In a lucky set of even more coincidences (and yes, some hard work too), my husband got a job offer in Mountain View (in the Silicon Valley) and I received a scholarship to attend Santa Clara Law school, twenty minutes from where he worked and where we ended up living. Both our boys were born in California – seventh generation Californian on my side and first generation American on my husband’s. We made friends, spent time with family, and yes, enjoyed the weather and wine. But somewhere else was calling to us.

At the beginning of my third year of law school, my husband’s company offered him a job near Seattle. I wanted the opportunity for him. We had promised each other during our wedding to try to always listen to what each other wanted – what was voiced and what was left silent in our minds and hearts. I knew he wanted the opportunity. I knew I could make it home. And I knew the flight was short between Seattle and Northern California.

And so we moved. We moved to a beautiful suburb and into a lovely home. We had horses for a short while (one of my less well thought out plans) and got involved in jobs (for us) and school and sports (for the boys). My husband’s parents came to live with us and though sometimes it was a little cozier than I would have liked, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Over the nine years we were there we made some of the best friends – friends we still see, friends we still travel with, friends our boys still consider to be second parents. After nine years, the Seattle area was as close to home as I could get. Without it actually being home.

After my mother in law passed away very suddenly in 2012, my husband and I did what I think a lot of people do when they’ve lost a loved one. We looked around and asked ourselves, was this what we wanted? Not from a job perspective, but from life. There was so much to love about where we were and even though I knew moving was the right thing, I still cried when we left behind our friends and our neighborhood and yes, even my job. But leave we did. Because we’d decided that what we wanted from life was family – what our “home” was, was family. Not just the four of us, but the big messy lot of us including my grandmother’s cousin twice removed on her father’s side (if you know what I mean).

We moved back to California in the end of 2012 and though it hasn’t always been easy – transition is hard in so many ways – we are surrounded by family. My boys see their grandparents nearly every day and their uncle as often as they can. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews are all within a few hours’ drive and it’s brought a sense of belonging and home I didn’t even feel when we lived in the Silicon Valley which is only a few short hours away.

But more importantly, what it’s also brought is the chance to embrace something I’d always suspected, but never really tested - that for me “home” truly is where family is. But I will also say that feeling these roots, this sense of belonging, has also given me the freedom to know something else I have long suspected - that I have family I have chosen too. I have family that live in Washington, in Idaho, New York, Massachusetts, and many other places.  While it’s true, I have found my home here in Northern California, I’m lucky enough to have some of the best vacation “homes” all over the world.
  Tamsen Schultz is the author of several romantic suspense novels and  American Kin (a short story published in Line Zero Magazine).  In addition to being a writer, she has a background in the field of international conflict resolution,  has co-founded a non-profit, and currently works in corporate America. Like most lawyers, she spends a  disproportionate amount of time thinking (and writing) about what it might be like to do  something else. She lives in Northern California in a house full of males including her husband, two sons, three cats, a dog, and a gender-neutral, but well-stocked,  wine rack.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Finding Home: A Brief Hiatus

When I began the Finding Home blog series, a mini-memoir exploring the meaning of home, I thought it would be completed by the time my third novel, Walking Home, was released. I was wrong. I hope you'll excuse a brief interruption in the series as I share updates related to the book launch each Tuesday for the next little while. Meanwhile, the companion series, Finding Home: Other Voices, will continue uninterrupted every Thursday.

Who knew Bing Crosby was born in Tacoma, WA and grew up in Spokane, WA? And that was only one of the many surprises this Washingtonian enjoyed last weekend when I dragged my husband, Tom, to Spokane for a bookstore reading and mini-vacation, bikes loaded on the back of the car. We saw Bing Crosby's pipe (or one of many pipes, I'm sure) in the historic Davenport Hotel, and quickly learned that Spokane had more to offer than either of us expected.

We left Seattle in gray drizzle and arrived in Spokane at the far side of Washington State four and a half hours later to bright, big-sky sunshine. I was scheduled to read at Auntie's Bookstore, a classy independent bookstore serving the city and surrounding areas since 1978. This was the first reading of my new novel, Walking Home, released by Booktrope Editions last month, and I was excited to share it.

They say that folks in Spokane "go to the lake" for Memorial Day weekend, and with temperatures in the high eighties there was no crowd at Auntie's. Still, I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing author, David Armstrong, visiting with events organizer, Jess Lucht and conversing with our small but interested audience.
Sunday was for biking. For my Seattle cycling buddies - the Spokane Centennial Trail is not the Snohomish Centennial Trail. Having ridden the length of the Westside trail, I was imagining a leisurely, flat, riverside ride. That it was not. We headed west out of town from Riverside Park and the hills got the best of me. I found myself wheezing from the March flu I apparently haven't completely beaten. Still, it was a beautiful ride through pine forests with nonstop views of the Spokane river. We'll have to return to do the east end.
Tom and an osprey nest

What surprised and pleased us the most about our visit was the number of wonderful restaurants we found. At the risk of sounding like Seattle snobs, we simply didn't expect such a lively restaurant scene. To name just a few of the places we visited during our short visit: Mizuna, Scratch, Madeleine's, Wild Sage, Sante. We peeked into Durkin's but just couldn't squeeze in another meal. I'm sure there are others we missed as well. The glutenfree almond flour ravioli and "Port Flight" dessert at  Wild Sage are reasons enough to return to Spokane!
So thank you to Jess Lucht at Auntie's Bookstore and all the wonderful people of Spokane for a terrific Memorial Day weekend. It even was worth the extra 45 minutes of miserable traffic on the way back to Seattle!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Finding Home: Other Voices

Today I'm pleased to share another story of finding home in Mexico City, from author Claudia Long.

Mexico Lindo, Where My Heart is Home

I moved 14 times in my first 17 years for reasons too tiresome to detail, but I always knew where home was. I grew up in Mexico City, and for me, calle Puebla, Puebla Street, was always where my heart was.

Our fortunes ebbed and flowed while I was growing up, and for a time we lived in a strange and dingy three-room place in a tall building. It was in that building, on Calle Rio Rin, that my father brought home a tiny puppy in his pocket, to my mother's tolerant dismay. We named that mutt Corky, or Cokis in Spanish since the foreign word was clumsy on the tongue.

We moved to a large stone home at some point, and the walls crawled with tarantulas and scorpions. My father used to come into our bedroom at night with a baseball bat to kill tarantulas.  After my sister was stung on the knee by a scorpion when we returned from a long trip and she knelt to pet Cokis, we moved.  From there I remember a rambling house with a huge flowering garden, where milk was delivered by a dun-colored burro. My mother had to boil the milk to pasteurize it, and I found the smell nauseating. This was 1962, so we just substituted the delicious cafĂ© de olla, coffee spiced with cinnamon, for the disgusting milk, engendering my lifelong love of coffee. 

I was nine when we moved to Calle Puebla. The apartment on Puebla took up half of the top two floors of a five-storey building. The building had an entrance door for humans, and a gate for cars and the gas- and wood-trucks that delivered heating fuels early in the morning. From the terrace on the top floor you could see Popocateptl on the increasingly rare clear days, and the faint outline of Ixtazihuatl in the distance. Popo was the male volcano, rising phallically into the clouds, and Ixta was his mate, undulating mountains of sleeping woman. We lived there for two and a half years, and whenever I think of home, that's where my mind goes.

We had little planters all around the terrace and my mother grew geraniums in them, brilliant red flowers with furry green leaves. The sky was blue with "towering cumuli" as the English-station weatherman used to say on the radio almost every day. In the spring, as the dry season wore on into choking dust, the horizon would be obscured with a brown haze that Los Angeles later re-named smog, but for now it was dust and exhaust and the fact that the rains had not yet come, and our eyes watered as we walked down the street choked with cars and buses spewing black smoke.

One day we got the word that the great God of Rain, Tlaloc, had been found by archeologists. It was unearthed and was going to be brought to the City on the back of a truck. Lines of people formed alongside the roads to see the great stone god, and my father realized that we would have a better view of the event from the terrace than if we tried to worm our way into the crowds. As Tlaloc made his dramatic entrance, the skies, bright blue through the smog until that day, darkened suddenly, and opened their reserves of water. Rain came down in torrents, drenching the eager crowd, washing the streets and skies, and running in rivers through the gutters. Thunder and lightning accompanied the god, letting us all know that we had trifled with the wrong guy.

When I was eleven we moved to New York, and I have only been back to visit a few times. The last time I saw Calle Puebla, about ten years ago, the street had hardly changed. There was still the dry-cleaner and the paper goods store, and the little convenience store where I spent my allowance on candy. The vacant lot across the street where my little brother played cars in the dirt was now a high-rise though, and my old building's paint was peeling and dull.

Of course, it has been nearly 50 years since we moved away, so it's amazing more hasn't changed. But maybe I have the right to expect permanence when home is a land where a rain god can still wreak havoc for having his sleep of 300 years disturbed.
 Claudia H. Long is the author of Josefina's Sin and The Duel for Consuelo, two historical novels of Colonial Mexico. She grew up in Mexico City, and lives in Northern California with her husband and too many dogs. And a cat. 
Like Claudia on Facebook at and enjoy her blog at


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Finding Home: Six Years in Mexico City

I didn’t fly directly from Oahu to Mexico City, but spent two weeks couch surfing in LA before boarding another flight. Was it fear of the unknown, of starting over once again? I’m not certain and my old journals shed little light. What I did know was that I was flying into the most populous city on the face of the earth in 1979. The Federal District (el D.F.) had not yet hit its current population of 20-21 million inhabitants, but it was an enormous, polluted city at the top of a flat, dry plateau.
It took my body months to adjust to the elevation. The dizziness was at times frightening and the weakness debilitating, but despite the shock to my system – I mean what could have been more different from the North Shore? – I adjusted and stayed.

The city was overwhelming. Only taking it one colonia at a time made it manageable. Each colonia or area felt like an individual city with its own character. I lived in only two apartments in two neighboring colonias during my time there. The first was rent-free, much like the Caracas place, but only for a few months between lease-holders. The student who found it for me also helped me locate the apartment that remained mi casa for the duration of my stay.

Mi casa was actually the lower back apartment in a two-story concrete block of six apartments behind the main, street-front house. There was only one entrance. I had to unlock a metal door to the owners’ carport and pass their house, then follow a walkway to my own front door at the back of the property. The walkway was about three feet wide with the apartment building to the right and a concrete wall to the left. The cave-like apartment consisted of two small rooms – living room and bedroom – with a tiny kitchen off the living room and an equally tiny bathroom off the bedroom.

There was another walkway to the second floor apartments overhead. Tunnel-like but not closed in, there was enough daylight on the lower level outside my front door to grow small plants in terracotta pots. I pounded nails into the cracks in the mortar of the concrete block wall and wrapped wire around the pots to hang them. I was desperate for anything living and green in the city of concrete I claimed as my home.
I found work immediately and never lacked teaching positions. I taught in private language institutes, corporate offices, restaurant kitchens, and secondary schools criss-crossing the city by bus, pesero, and subway. I lived alone for three years, though there was often someone--between jobs or boyfriends, another ex-pat deciding to stay or go--sleeping on my sofa. I watched and struggled with the same decisions: Was this really home? Could I make this home? Did I belong?

I married a good man, a man who loved me, a man whose family accepted me. I'm not sure where I'd be today if I'd stayed, if tragedy hadn't brought me back to Seattle. But tragedy has a way of pulling family together, and when it struck, three years into the marriage, my roots proved stronger than the home I'd built for myself as an ex-pat. After six years convincing myself I must have been Latina in a previous life, I quit my teaching position, packed up our household and returned stateside with husband in tow.

But what is home? Was it my first family or this new husband from a place and a culture so remote from my own? Was it my large first family or my husband's family? Was it an either/or? Couldn't home be both? I had no idea. All I knew at the time was that an invisible cord allowing no dissent pulled me back to Seattle.  I left behind a life I'd built for myself without ever looking back. I returned only once after the earthquakes of 1985 to visit the in-laws who very soon were no longer family at all.

I wonder, even now, so many decades later, a lifetime later, what I was searching for, what caused me to abandon all I knew for the life of an ex-pat. It wasn't love--I'd moved to Mexico City several years before ever meeting the man who would become my husband of three years. It was an adventure, yes, but something more. I tell people I was fed up with U.S. politics and American materialism, and maybe that was true, but it was still only half the story. Something was missing. Home was missing. What I wanted or what I needed home to be was missing, and I spent my twenties and deep into my thirties searching for it.

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To read the prior posts in this mini-memoir series, go to the posts listing in the left side bar. If no longer visible, just click on "March" and "April" to select.