Sitting on the balcony off my bedroom, looking over Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula, watching sailboats and ferries criss-crossing the water, it’s hard to imagine the terror and chaos that occurred in Barcelona, Spain earlier today. It’s thousands of miles away, but it is also so very close to my heart. Barcelona is one of our family’s favorite cities in the world. Gabi is obsessed with their fútbol team, Jason and I love its food and architecture, and the boys still talk about our day at Mt. Tibadabo as one of the highlights of our year in Spain. We’ve talked of visiting there again, possibly even spending another year abroad there at some point way in the future. I hope and pray for healing and peace for the people in Barcelona, and in every city and town that has or is experiencing such violent acts of terror.
It almost feels irreverent to write about our final month of this adventure right now, but on the other hand, if I don’t, I actually feel like I’m giving in to something evil and wrong. Just like going to see U2 in London only a couple of months after the attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, keeping our lives as normal as possible is one way to fight the people who are trying to terrorize us. And so…
We landed in Chicago in the early afternoon of July 13th, after a short layover in Washington D.C. that gave us enough time to grab some burgers at Five Guys. Our friends, the Whitted’s (yes, the SAME family) had offered us their condo in the city for a few days, and we gladly took them up on it. Despite the four flights of stairs, it was a gem and we had amazing views of downtown Chicago, while being in a great neighborhood close to an L station. That evening, Matthew battled out the jet-lag and grabbed dinner with us, while Robbie and Gabi passed out at 4 p.m. and slept until the next morning. The next day we wandered the city, sent the kids to a movie while Jason an I did a boat tour on the Chicago river, and enjoyed some deep-dish pizza before another early night in bed. Saturday, we had the pleasure of visiting my nephew and his wife, along with their 3-year-old son Declan and his brand new (two-week-old) twin sisters. We basically spent the day snuggling babies on the couch and trying to eat the enormous amount of food my sister Denise had prepared. Sunday morning we scouted out Columbia College, an arts college that quite of few students from Robbie’s film program at Ballard High have attended, and Sunday we were able to watch the Seattle Mariners beat the White Sox in a really exciting baseball game.
Monday, we tried to beat the traffic out of the city, but apparently that is pretty much impossible unless one leaves at 3 a.m. However, we were still able to drive to Iowa City in time for an official college tour of the University of Iowa for Robbie. At least, Jason said it was for Robbie, but we think part of it was for Jason to relive his college days. The campus is huge and beautiful and in such a great location close to the quaint downtown district of Iowa City. Robbie wasn’t super interested at first, but it turns out Iowa actually has a small cinema studies program, so it’s not totally out of the running. The bonus is Grandma Wilbur would be only two hours away!
Next stop, West Union. Ten days of family, endless views, pool time, golf, and Mom’s home cooking were just the relaxation we needed after weeks of constant travel. Gabi could have done without the tornado warning the second night, but other than that, it was a perfect visit. Robbie celebrated his 16th birthday while we were in Iowa and that night Jason took him for his first driving lesson in the parking lot of the high school.
From Iowa we flew together to Denver, where Jason and Matthew stopped to visit our friend Scott and spend a few days hiking in the Colorado Rockies. Jason originally invited the whole family to join he and Scott for some camping and hiking in the mountains, but I know he was pleased when only Matthew accepted. After almost an entire year of family travel, a few days in smaller teams was welcome. Plus, Matthew loves to hike, and the rest of us have a reputation for complaining too much when the hikes become too demanding and long. Matthew loved the experience of hanging out with the old dudes. His only disappointment was that they never actually made it to the top of any of the mountains, and he is adamant that he and Jason return to Colorado soon to scale some 14ers (mountains in Colorado whose peaks reaches above 14,000 feet … there are dozens of them).
Robbie, Gabi and I went on to California, where we were able to visit with my mom, sisters, nephews and their wives and meet my grand-niece Jaelyn, who was born last July. She and Robbie celebrated their birthdays together, and we spent time going to movies, visiting the animal shelter and taking Gabi to meet her “mule-cousins.” All was going smoothly until the Sunday before we were supposed to head home, when I got a call that our dog Rigby was sick and in the emergency vet clinic in Seattle. Luckily, Jason and Matthew were joining us in California that night, and we were able to discuss our (lack of) options, so we OK’d the surgery that was required to remove a sock, yes, a sock, from his intestines. We felt so bad for the family who had taken such good care of him all year, that they had to deal with this a week before we returned, but they were amazing, getting him the help he needed and then dealing with all the follow-up care after the surgery. This was also a great example of the cost of living in Spain: Jason’s ankle surgery back in April didn’t even cost enough for us to reach our $3000 insurance deductible. Rigby’s surgery was more than double the cost of Jason’s. We are definitely not in Granada anymore, Toto. The day before we flew out of LA to Seattle, we spent the evening with another family from Granada, the McKendry’s. It was great catching up on their last days in Granada and all the traveling they did before they headed to their new home in Manhattan Beach. We are so glad that they live (relatively) close to us, and I expect there will be plenty of visits between LA and Seattle in the coming years!
Finally, on Saturday, August 5th, we landed at Sea-Tac. Home. Thirteen months and thousands of miles and we were back where it all started. Our house was just as we had left it, and it felt so comfortable to be back in our lovely neighborhood. Our first meal that evening was at the local Mexican restaurant that had been the spot of our last supper in Seattle before leaving for Spain. It was wonderful to walk into El Ranchon and have the wait staff not only remember us, but insist that now they would only speak to us in Spanish. We toasted to our year, our adventure and told the kids how so very proud of them we are. We did it!
We have Rigby (the costly dog) and Raider (the cat) back at home, are enjoying grilling on our deck every chance we get and are catching up with friends as much as possible. I’ve been hired as a substitute teacher for Seattle Public Schools, and Jason is working on his future employment plans (if anyone knows of any good business leadership or consulting opportunities in the Seattle area, please contact him … I need to get him out of the house!). We bought a new car to replace my old one that was sold just prior to our departure last year. We are shopping for school supplies and uniforms, and doing all the normal end of summer things one does as a family living in Seattle (or pretty much any American city).
The return to “normalcy” is welcome and yet … We’ve now been back in home for almost two weeks, and it’s disturbing how quickly Granada, the country of Spain, the experience of all of our travels feel like distant memories; almost as if we never left Seattle. At times, Granada seems like a dream, but then, like today, something will spark a memory and we will stop and reflect and feel deeply grateful for the glorious time we’ve spent together as a family over the last year. We may fall right back into our routines and pre-Spanish life now that we’ve returned, but we will always have the memories of this past year. Thankfully, the experiences are permanently a part of us … deeply embedded … imprinted on our minds, our hearts and our souls.
[For those that have enjoyed our blog this year, and are interested in reading more, Jason is planning to publish some stories, anecdotes and lessons from the perspective of someone who successfully climbed the corporate ladder for twenty years and then, suddenly, hit the pause button on his career to embark on our year abroad. You will soon be able to read what he publishes on LinkedIn. If you are not already on LinkedIn and connected to Jason, he can be found at www.linkedin.com/in/jwilbur70.]