...is the process by which we create, discover, learn and grow with those we cherish most.

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more than a treasure hunt

There is something so exciting about finding things. Things we've lost and forgotten about. Or things we never knew we even had. But when we find such things that belong to someone else, we hold onto it for a second and imagine their story and for a brief moment, a small peek into someone else's life. This past Monday, we decided to try our hands at a modern day treasure hunt called geocaching.



Geocaching is like solving a puzzle - by travel and technology. You need a simple GPS system to locate your coordinates. Once there, clues are given to help you seek out the cache. Many people opt for small containers with just a log roll inside. Others choose bigger containers to hide gifts to be exchanged by each founder. I chose the prize caches because I knew this would be fun for Ava to see. While Aaron got the kids ready, I printed off 3 geocaches within a 5-mile radius. One of them had 3 cryptograms to solve - perfect for Aaron.

We navigated our way down Greenville and followed our GPS' instructions. This first particular cache was hidden back in 2005 and included a riddle about an elephant taking a bath. She included photos of various locations we'd see. Less than 4 miles away, we parked near a water plant facility - and started walking. Our GPS kept reading that we passed it. Surely they didn't expect us to go "down there" - so I kept looking. The plant had fenced barbwire and a security gate that was open. Maybe someone unknown to the geocache game found it and took it. Maybe it got washed up. Maybe it's here but we're not looking in the right place... I had an Indiana Jones moment. And just like that, I looked at the gated fence hidden next to bushes and right before my eyes - it just appeared. A bottle camouflaged with silver duck tape tied to string so that it could hang behind the retainer wall - out of view. There we found little trinkets and a log roll last dated in March.



We traded some of the trinkets for some of ours and signed the log roll with our names. Barely 11am, the sun sent us all racing to Braum's to cool off. It's going to be a hot summer already...


Over chocolate and butter pecan scoops, we discussed the cryptogram that still had Aaron stumped. So we decided to skip it and try the third geocache, which took us to Restland cemetery's reflecting pools. The clues had us believing the cache was somewhere hidden in the wind chimes hanging from the tree. But we found no such mystery box. Instead, we heard the soft clanking of metal swinging above tombstones. We decided the container was stolen by a squirrel at some point, so we got back in the car and drove over to the Islamic Garden.

I've only been to a cemetery a handful of times in my life - and I would have never imagined that today would be one of them. I found myself over my Aunt's tombstone reading her name and the year 1991. Really? 1991? It's been that long? I remember the phone call I got from my cousin telling me about her accident. And more vividly, I remember having to tell my father when he got home from work. It was the second and last time in my entire life that I witnessed my father crying.

Strange - isn't it all? I didn't know that going on a treasure hunt with my family this morning would ultimately lead me to my Aunt. Could it be that the geocaches I randomly picked from the website was actually no coincidence? I experienced a dose of reality after seeing her and dozens of other family members visiting their loved ones - on how life itself is very much like a treasure hunt. We are always in search of something - peace, happiness, the greater good... If we follow the directions given, the journey is less bumpy. If we are given riddles to solve, say challenges in life, than we have a much more rewarding journey ahead of us.

The people, experiences and wisdom we pick up along the way are the treasures we are lucky to find in this life so beautifully mapped out for us...

birthday beach bashes


Since Noah has come into our lives - my Mommy powers have doubled. Maybe tripled because he's a boy [just kidding.] I can't believe an entire year has come and gone already. We are so busy enjoying our moments now - that we so easily forget what it was like yesterday - or even months past. When I have time to exhale, I realize only then how much they have grown and still in denial I ask, How did this happen?

Stretch

Noah made his debut May 21st, 2007, just 2 days after I turned 30. I didn't have time to dwell on missing my 20s - as I was so worried I wouldn't have a name picked out for him in time. After only an hour of labor and only one push - I was able to reach out and pull him towards me so that he could lay on my chest. It was only then that I was able to comprehend a miracle - another blessing in my life. And name him Noah.


So this year, our family vacation fell on the week of our birthdays - so we packed the car and drove out to the beach to release and enjoy. I didn't know how Noah would take to water or sand - but he did - in his own way. Some days he'd lounge on the beach chair and enjoy a cold bottle of milk under the umbrella with sand in his long hair. On others, he'd wear his nautical best, and play with his toys.

Noah


The good life...

Enjoying the beach

Thinking

Playing

On Monday, I aged to 31. I welcomed this new year with a long walk on the beach with Aaron and the kids. When we returned, Mom had prepared a delicious brunch with a homemade cake - my absolute best - butter cream with butter cream icing - oh so good.

31st Birthday

On Wednesday, we decorated the beach house with party favors and Aaron prepared a seafood feast for all. Noah was completely mesmerized by his birthday candle, wavering from the beach air blowing through the windows. Ava and I helped him make a wish, and we all enjoyed a beach-themed cake with ice-cream. He didn't care too much for cake, but he did slurp a bowl of chocolate Blue Bell instead
. We missed the Patenaudes, Dad and our close friends on this occasion - so we hope to have a summer fling in June to celebrate once again....

Happy Birthday son - here's to your first year and watching you grow...


One

playing at the edge of the earth

After a 12 hour road trip with two sleepy children that were coming in and out of consciousness, we arrived underneath our beach house rental in Santa Rosa Beach, Fl. We parked the car, threw open the doors, unbuckled the kids and ran straight towards the sand. As if we were kids again, we all shouted, jumped up and down, and got ourselves wet with goosebumps as the strong winds from the Gulf welcomed us. In the middle of unpacking, I found Mom and Ava by the shore for a personal greeting and was absolutely speechless with the view. I felt as though I was at the edge of the earth. I was humbled. I was scared. I felt so alive to be in the presence of God's wonders. The ocean. My mother. My daughter.

It's a big world out there

I watched Ava's natural curiosity tip toe on the wet sand, and focus on the cold rush of baby waves washing over her feet. What a beautiful moment etched in my memory - Mom and Ava holding hands. This brought back memories of my own childhood and how we'd spend our summers growing up in Queens, NY. We'd wake up Saturday morning to the smell of boiled eggs and potatoes in the apartment. Mom would have the cooler packed with hamburger patties, chips and Sunkist and Wagma and I would dig for our bathing suits before brushing our teeth. The four of us would walk the 10 blocks to the subway and drag our cooler and plastic bags filled with towels and extra clothes. The anticipation of the last stop on the F train for Coney Island made us bubble over with excitement - because to us, it felt like we were going to the other side of the world. Sun tan lotion mixed with the hot air, half naked bodies going in every direction, music blaring from store vendor booths, metal screeching against wood and children screaming with their hands in the air - mom and dad completely to us - this is what summer is made of.

After crossing the rickety boardwalk, our senses would fill with saltwater and sand. As much as Mom tried back in those days, I always refused to go into the water. Dad took me into the ocean once by carrying me on his shoulders - and I was sure the waves were going to pull me off and bury me at the bottom of the ocean and then eat me alive. He gave up after I pulled every black curl he had left on his head. There were even conspired attempts by Wagma - who pretended once she was drowning. I grabbed my tube and ran over to her. By the time I reached her, she stood up and shouted - "You made it." I looked up at her, cried and ran back - wishing she had drowned for real.

And for this very reason, I wasn't going to push Ava and Noah to jump waves on their first day. Instead, we allowed them to experience it their own way. Whether it was playing in the sand, or sleeping under the umbrellas - life for one week - was a beach.

Sand as white as snow

Trust

Come and get me

Freewill

We love You Daddy

Morning Bliss

Sunrise

Humzah & Dad at Sunset

Last dip

Taking our first family trip to the beach is somewhat nostalgic for me. I cherish those childhood memories my parents gave us [even those times I came home crying because of saltwater burning my nose]. Not having my father with us on this family vacation left us all a little empty - as so often we thought of him and how much he would have loved swimming in the water. I'd imagine him with his blue swim cap on swimming out to the deep waters, or what'd he'd say about the stingrays we saw traveling near the shore or the wonderful cool breezes every morning and night...Having my family with us on this trip was the best birthday gift I could have ever wished for as it gave me a wonderful transition remembering my childhood to now making new ones with our own children. Thank you Wagma, Masaud, and Humzah for sharing your family vacation with us and making each day so special... Thank you Greg for being the best friend ever to all of us - Thank you Roshana for having fun every single moment - I enjoyed it all with you - Thank you Mom - for being such an incredible mother and keeping us all in check. My greatest love, Aaron - thank you for making it all possible. I am so grateful that I have that kind of a family who is not into agendas but each other. I look forward to next summer - same place - same time - with all of you.


Life's a Beach

how to keep your babies busy for a 12 hour road trip

Road Trip Box Surprises
Planning our first family vacation to the beach has been - interesting. I couldn't have done it without our cousin in FL - who is a beach connoisseur - Thank you Toni!

We're driving to our summer sanctuary and leaving in just a few hours. I haven't even brought out my luggage or tried to fit myself in a bathing suit. I'm getting there - slowly....

Above all else, I knew that having 2 infants in the backseat without a referee to block sippy cups from being thrown at each other, that I needed a toy box. And what could be more fun than a personalized one with favorite toys, new toys, books, and... surprises?

I went around the house and picked up toys, doodle pads, crayons, things that roll, light-up, make noise, teach and even nourish - how appropriate - Goldfish!

Tips for toy box surprises:

1. Ask for the lovely boxes at department stores - Janie & Jack, Babystyle, Nordstrom all cary beautiful sturdy boxes in all shapes and sizes. I get one every time - even when I make a purchase for myself and use them for storing artwork and the children's memoirs.

2. One of the hardest things in planning for a beach trip was that we weren't prepared to shop for it. Some stores started bringing their seasonal items months ago - and so they were completely out. While other staple stores were bringing them in now - and inventory was still rolling in. Either way - it made running errands quite impossible - with 2 kids. As soon as you think of planing a themed trip [beach, mountain, or euro adventure] keep your eye out for clothing and accessories and save your receipt if they don't end up making the cut.

3. Incorporate related items without spending a fortune. Go through your drawers, things that you collect from the outdoors, and be creative. I found bubbles from a wedding we attended, a book about fish we picked up from the aquarium last year, towels with whales stitched to them from Target, sunglasses with 2 fishes kissing from a wedding favor, and a seahorse that squirts water from a birthday party. My favorite finds are mini boxed set of crayons collected from restaurants - how easy.


xo
Zarlacht

a sense of past

Appreciating natural wood, age, beauty
Buying furniture is not an everyday chore. So when you find a piece that resonates with your entire body - whether for comfort or looks, it feels like a celebrated occasion.

Such was the case when we purchased an early-century child's school desk and chair we found at the antique show this past April, and tucked it into the corner of our homeoffice - right behind me. There are moments in the day when I take a break from my work desk cluttered with modern comforts, to look behind me and catch a glimpse of a child sliding into the wooden chair frame, lifting the table top and pulling out his composition book to recite his ABCs or doodle a frog eating a fly out in the margin.

While I like to dream about nostalgic moments like these, I am instead graced with a sticker-crazed two-year old who likes to collect all the highlighters and red markers from my desk to add into hers. "More paper Mommy" she asks, while sitting in this old chair, smiling, and swagging her feet below. Noah usually intrudes on her concentration of drawing circles by pulling on her shirt so that he can lift himself up and with due timing, climb into the chair for a turn.



New on Old

And when he does, there is much excitement in his grip. His feet curl, his hands reach and grab for all corners to hoist him up into a new position - a new view. As still and forgiving this 90 year old desk is - Noah is moving around it like a buzzing bee, exploring for survival. I constantly find myself captivated by their appreciation for this antique desk. They love it as much as I do - and what's more, is that their memories will be added to the thousands already before it.


Sitting in antique school desk chair


happy mamas make happy babies...happy babies make happy mamas


Mother's Day sneaked upon us before we could even accept the fact that it's May already. Noah will be turning one next week - oh my - and so much of this past weekend was spent planning for our first family trip together to the beach and well - celebrating motherhood. At 12:02 am, while still on the computer, Aaron donned me with a gift he helped the children create - artwork with the words Happy Mother's Day - thanks to their daddy who handmade a stencil for them to pound their brushes into so that it's 100% theirs. We had breakfast at La Madeline, my favorite coffee and croissant awaited and we dined with so many other moms and grandmothers - it was all the more sweeter. After the kids had enough of their high chairs, we headed out to the Dallas Arboretum to join my family for lunch on the lawn with an impeccable view of the lake, May's blooms, and salads of sorts made by the men.



Uncle Greg sent Ava on a wild duck, duck, goose run - and we all enjoyed the lovely Sunday weather being together, people watching - and listening to music from a pianist in the background. Ava kept inching forward to the lady - it was so amazing how her shyness was superseded by her desire to touch the keyboard. When the woman stopped and asked if she'd like to play, Ava was without words.

video


Until she finished. Uncle Greg brought her down and she came running straight into my arms. I told her how proud I was of her while smothering her with kisses, and she looked up at me and said, "Mommy, I'm soo happy."

I paused. Broke into a million pieces inside, and said, "I'm so glad bachem [child in Farsi]. I'm soo happy too."

happy mother's day

Since being online for the past few months - I have found myself constantly in awe of the power of the Internet. More recently, I have joined the Flickr family of photographers, and let me tell you - it is quite a feeling receiving a view or comment or email from someone, somewhere, on the other side of the world I have never met, about a moment in my life that resonates with them. And then I receive this in my inbox:

I don't know you personally, but I am sending this message to all the mothers that I met here in flickr, who encourage and inspire me every day without knowing it, and that somehow admire, for their work, their loving parenting, and their creativity. Julie Alvarez

And that's exactly how I feel about you - my reader, who I appreciate for commenting, calling, and letting me know what they mean to you and how they have encouraged you to do something different today. It honestly - makes me speechless. So I'll keep drinking this coffee in my new mug Aaron got me - in honor of being a Mama to Ava & Noah.. and celebrating this blog - that means so very much to me - thank you!


learning from beyond doors


For a Work-At-Home-Mom, I find myself outdoors more than I'd like to be. I prefer the expansive family room we've created for the kids to run around in, bicycle, make feasts in their wooden kitchen, or run trains on their track. But by mid-morning, I usually find both Ava and Noah near the front door - restless and squirmy. As if by some strong invisible magnetic pull, they are both drawn to be on the other side of the front door. Heat, bugs, pollen and all - we go.

Whether for a quick push on the swing, a pull around the neighborhood in their wagon, or a scavenger hunt for dandelions to blow on, it completely sets the stage for a better day. For all of us.

Each time Ava steps outside, she looks beneath her. There are specks of ants on the move… and her eyes track their migration until they disappear into the grass. She runs over to the slide and spots a ladybug slowly crawling on the side. She examines the guest, tests her patience, and waits for it to move so she doesn’t squash it on her way down.


Lately, we've been using our bikes and the trailer for the kids to ride out to White Rock Lake. It's a two hour adventure for us there and back - but the kids [to my surprise] love it. Ava pulls my heart when she actually asks, "Ride our bikes Mommy?"

How can we refuse? Not only are we getting the exercise we need, but we are doing this together - learning and absorbing the natural things around us. People [from singles walking their dobermans to families marching in stride]... Trees [mysteriously standing like jungles above our heads]... wild flowers [in patches we all take a moment to see how in the midst of all this untouched grass, grows a single delicate flower our eyes have never seen before].

When we reach the lake, we'll look for ducks and feed them crackers or goldfish - whichever Ava can bare to part with first. If the park doesn't look too busy, we'll stop and let the kids stretch out their legs, and let Noah finish a bottle. Cycling as a family would not be possible without our new trailer. In fact, this is the only time Ava and Noah can sit together. They instantly become a team - conspiring when to squeal so we'd stop and check on them. They exchange snacks and drinks, and even sing along the bumpy trail. Giving them these types of opportunities to share and deal with the other being in their space - is genuinely priceless. And by the looks of it, they make a fine pair of little adventurers together...


Family Cycling:
1. We thought Noah would be a little too young for the trailer - but we made it work by adding burp cloths to the straps so they wouldn't rub against his sensitive skin. A Bike trailer is an investment. We love our family owned and quality customer service we get from Boyd at
Dallas Bikes Works - look for a place that caters to families and experiences - and not a retail giant that will sell you anything.

2. Find a route. It'll take some time, but find a route you all enjoy. Make sure there are hills to challenge you and parks to rest at. We love White Rock Lake and the tons of people out there everyday so you never feel alone. Just be wary - cyclists at WRL are serious riders. They will yell at you if you go the wrong way or don't move. Here are some resources for locating a trail near you in Dallas or Collin County

home is where your family is...

When my father boarded a plane in December of ’79, he didn’t know that it would be 30 years before he would go back home - to Kabul. My parents have spent the last 30 years creating a home here for us - and life as they knew it no longer existed except in their memories. Thanks to stories and salvaged photos from distant relatives, we are able to imagine what it was like and reflect on what it took to get here today.

My father grew up in a household of 15 brothers and sisters – each child helping to raise the other. If you couldn’t find your left shoe in the chaos, you went to school without one anyway because getting an education offered a hopeful future.


My Dad’s struggling youth pushed him to seize every opportunity to educate himself. He graduated from Kabul University and law school majoring in polictical science and was given a full scholarship to obtain 2 master degrees in Berlin and Vienna. Upon returning, he served more than 17 years in government, with his final position as Governor to a province outside of Kabul. At the age of 39, he was given my mother’s hand, the daughter of Afghanistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, for marriage, after just one week of courtship. The birth of their first child, Wagma, was one of the most joyous times for my Dad… my mother recalls. Her dresses were all hand sewn and her shoes from Dad's trips throughout Europe. On his way home from work each day, he’d bring Wagma sticks of gum and colorful wrapped candies, placing them daily into her extended grateful palms.

Then one day, my father found himself hiding Wagma and I under the bed and instructing her to keep still while he went to get our mother at the local school where she taught. I was less than 2 yrs old at the time and can’t remember this particular day, but for Wagma, who was 4, it is all too clear and she can replay the banging of fists on her bedroom door and tanks rolling outside her window. Unsure of when my father was returning – she sat still – holding me. Dad kicked the door in and our entire family rushed to the Kabul airport. My father knew he had no time to spare - Communism was leaking into the country with armed Russian soldiers overtaking the country's borders. And those holding titles and influence were black-listed.

As they approached the gate, my Mom recounts how panic stricken she was when she saw Russian soldiers regulating the airports and spot checking all ticket holders. I can only imagine from Hollywood cinema, the dramatic intensity that clotted their veins. Mom and Dad holding onto their entire lives: their two daughters and two suitcases. They told the officer they were going on a trip for one week [thus the reason for only 2 suitcases] and then waited for him to decide our fate. My mom could sense from the man's eyes as he scrolled through the list of forbidden travelers, that our names were indeed included. By the miracle of God, we boarded that plane - and didn't look back.

As they say, the rest is history. We gathered at Mom and Dad's this past Sunday for brunch and enjoyed the beautiful weather on the back patio. I snapped some photos of our family together and we spent the morning reflecting and talking about our family.


While going through old photos, Roshana found a letter hidden in the pocket of one of Dad's albums. Dad shared with us how it was because of this letter from his sister, Estor, God bless her, that we were able to seek permanent asylum here in the US. My Aunt wrote a detailed account of how they searched their home, and terrorized her and his younger sister who was mistaken as my mother.


After his story, Masaud led our family into a special prayer. We put our heads and hearts together, around the living room and prayed for Dad's safe passage and return back home to us.


Ava helped tow his suitcase to the front door. She felt so important and helpful - she wouldn't stop smiling. She looked up at Dad and he looked back at her - and like a hole in time, I drifted back and wondered how it was 30 years ago - leaving home with our suitcases. For me not comprehending what was happening to our family and for Dad, who imagined the worst if he didn't get us out in time. And here I was, 30 years later, watching my daughter with my father, pulling his suitcase for his trip back to Afghanistan.


We crumbled when we hugged him good-bye. It was a very surreal moment - for all of us. And it still is as I write this and my heart aches with worry because we haven't heard from him.


At age 73, he left home on his own will – to go back to Kabul where his roots were once planted. We hope that this journey will fulfill a cornerstone in his heart of wonder so that when he returns this summer, we can sit down and write our entire family's story together, including this most recent chapter of finding the courage and right time to return - home.


chalk talk


When I was little, chalk was only used by teachers in our classrooms. I don't know what's so amusing about their smooth perfect little shapes crumbling against a blackboard - but it was. Until its fine powder would dry out my hands, give me goosebumps and make me run for the Nivea cream.

Today, it's a different story. Pieces of chalk fill almost every room in our house. An old Robin Hood tin holds the broken pieces, while a silver flower pot holds new ones. We have chalk boards for travel and on an easel. I even keep a small bucket with outdoor chunky sizes by the front door.

We are drawn to our streets to depict rainbows, sunny skies or trees with "pink" apples. What ever the color or method, we find ourselves outside, illustrating on top of the grayest of palettes - beginning always in character - our family.


Our chalk tips:

1] Buy them in bulk and split them into several various batches - one for the back yard, one for the front, etc.

2] We picked up a lap-sized board and eraser at Lakeshore Learning for her to use in the car. The board is lined for practicing her penmanship - and it keeps her busy in the backseat repeating A - V - A over and over.

3] Chunky pieces of chalk are our favs. I love how I can hold one in my palm and "fill-in" layers of rainbows in one swoosh. Ava received a carton of egg-shaped pieces for Easter - and they are perfect for this. I would recommended [highly] getting these at Target during the Easter sales.

4] But since the season is over - you can create some of your very own - here's a recipe [we haven't tried yet] but came across from our favorite learning store: Chunky Chalk Recipe

5] Leave messages for each other outside the front door - it's a pretty special feeling coming home and Ava has "I love Mommy" written across the path...

the power of brownies


Yummy isn't it? Not only was I thinking about it all day, but I also twittered it - my latest discovery with the social media world. What gets me are the thousands upon thousands of folks who have thousands upon thousands of "followers" tracking revelations and experiences people are having in the moment. So I tried it today. [See right-hand side]

And it saved my life - today that is. It all started when I was reheating the latte Aaron made me from this morning - for the 6th time. With running on just 4 hrs of sleep, it was a long day [again] taking care of runny noses and cranky moods. "No. Hold me. Up" was all I heard today. I made a b-line for the computer and "tweeted" my wish for a good cup of coffee accompanied by a caramel brownie specifically from Panera.

4 hours later, I found myself sitting in the foyer with Ava and Noah. Aaron unlocked the door and in his hands contained an entire box of brownies with a cup of creamy coffee [I imagined just 2 slices, but you know how Aaron always goes above and beyond]. When Ava saw the box, her mouth dropped to silence and her eyes widened with complete surprise. She sped off to the kitchen mumbling something about a knife? I was too caramel struck to notice. The next thing I knew, I was yelling, "Ava, don't run with a knife in your hand!" She sat at the dinner table and cut [or smashed] a piece out for herself and enjoyed every crumb. It was gone before her milk even hit the table.



I brought my 2 pieces and cup of coffee back to the office with me. To think without interruption. And appreciate - everything. What a perfect example of how powerful our thoughts can be. And the power we have to create our own experiences. I really believe that. Just like if you want to accomplish your goals, write it down... people can't hurt you unless you let them... and so forth. So true and instant it was with Twitter today- where I spoke out live on the web - and on the other end - someone very special was listening.


Twitter, thank you for speaking my wish for me today. And my beloved Aaron - thank you for always making them happen for me.

I love you.

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