Let’s Go Flaneuring in Northern California

Today Let’s Go Flaneuring post is by Holly Newman and takes us through the vineyards in Woodbridge, North California.

The morning sun begins to peek through the fog to reveal the acres of  dormant grapevines growing on the street next to mine.  I love the winter quietness that fog brings, it makes me want to wrap the day around me like a cozy sweater. Most people dread the arrival of the “tule fog” and the hazardous driving that comes with it. Seems like a good excuse to stay home by the fire if at all possible.

Woodbridge is a prime wine grape growing region, but at this time of year, the rows upon rows of spectral winter vines appear quite dead.  It seems impossible that anything is alive inside this gnarled exterior.  For me they are a reminder of God’s equally steady and mysterious working within me, bringing life in due time.  I love watching for the first buds in spring,  an annual miracle.


“The Crush” is in early fall when the grapes are harvested by immense lighted machines which ply the neighborhood streets at all hours, picking the grapes at the precisely right moment of sweetness.  A few weeks later, I love to walk or drive through the vineyards when they are pungent with the fermentation of the grapes missed or dropped by the harvesters.

I enjoy taking my grandchildren to the nearby park, full of young parents with rambunctious children.  Mine fit right in!  Sometimes I notice a group of Pakistani women meeting together in the park too, with the commonality of mothers everywhere seeking friendship and a place for their children to play in the sunshine.  These women are a visible reminder of the changing richness of our culture here in Northern California.

Our small village sprouts from one corner of the bustling metropolis of Lodi, population 60,000, though in truth Woodbridge predates Lodi.  Apparently back in the day, a decision was made to put the train station in Lodi, forever dooming Woodbridge to its diminutive size.  Today the village boasts several good restaurants, the original toll bridge that Mr. Wood built over the Mokelumne River, and the aforementioned fields of grapes. Our wonderful soil and climate also support walnuts and Bing cherries, to our delight.

Our lives and moves have taken us to Dallas, Palo Alto, Boise, Los Angeles, and a considerable stint in Singapore. This town of General Mills workers, hi tech farmers, larger than average families, and great dedication to kids’ sports, seems like an idyllic throwback sometimes. A friend who lives in a more sophisticated university city nearby refers to ours as “the Midwest”, though we are in Northern California. I have little experience with the midwest, but this is the smallest town we’ve ever lived in. It’s rare to go somewhere without seeing someone you know, but it’s also nice not to know everyone you see.

From my backyard, I look out over huge live oaks which mark the path down to the Mokelumne River.  They are draped with wild grape vines fit for Tarzan, and elderberry bushes growing at their base.  In August I pick the tiny berries to make jam, a messy and painstaking but rewarding project.  One of my greatest treats, and indeed the very reason we bought this house, is this expanse of wilderness just beyond our backyard.  It reminds me of the “woods” of my childhood in the Deep South, and I have planted honeysuckle and dogwood to further the similarity.  It is a place of peace, contentment and thankfulness.

JH-7339Imperfect follower of Jesus, wife to the greatest guy in the world, Mom to five wonderful grown children, and happy Nana to their ten littles. Having grown up in Atlanta, I keep a love for all things Southern. I became an amateur cultural anthropologist during a significant time living in SE Asia and still get to travel the world on mission and for fun with my sweetheart.  I love asking questions, cooking for my family, helping women breastfeed, walking in the woods, eating biscuits, and having deep conversations about things that matter. On my wishlist are reading more, playing the piano, painting watercolor scenes, figuring out my awesome camera, and writing to soothe my soul. Find Holly on Facebook and Instagram: @hhnewmanmom or her blog: A Handful of Quietness

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Antigua, Guatemala

Today’s Let’s Go Flaneuring post is by Michelle Acker and takes us through Antigua, Guatamala.

Most afternoons before the sun starts to fade I put my daughter in our oversized stroller and push her up the hill from our house. We walk through two metal gates to get to the street. She waves at the white dog that always sits by the corner looking for scraps of food. We pass a woman balancing a basket on her head. She greets us, “Buenas Tardes” and then pauses to smile at my daughter. Babies are universal conversation starters. She asks, how old she is and then comments, “Esta bien grande” I smile, knowing from personal experience, that to be called “big” is a compliment. In my head I have learned to translate “big” into “tall.”

My daughter’s head bounces along and I am reminded why I never see anyone else pushing a stroller on these roads. Babies are carried in wonderfully woven wraps on women’s backs and hips and held close while on motorcycles or bicycles.

I remember once driving home, I stopped to talk to neighbor who was in the park. I waved out the window and she asked where my daughter was. I rolled down the back window to show her. She gasped. You leave the baby back there, BY HERSELF? I nodded. Carseats are virtually non-existent in most of the developing world (or majority world, according to this npr article).

When we get to the main road we stop by the local bakery. No one waits in line here. You kind of just huddle toward the front and call out what you want. The woman hands me a plastic bag with an assortment of sweet breads. It costs about fifty cents. Guatemalans are serious about their pan dulce. Every afternoon fresh bread is delivered in large baskets to bakeries around town. It’s something you buy every day, just enough for that day. No one buys bread for the week. Or bread to freeze. It is, in the most simplest sense, daily bread.

Never before have I understood the significance of a prayer I grew up repeating, “Lord, give us this day our daily bread.” But, Guatemalan’s live that prayer every day.

We make it to the central plaza, where the orange church façade is a standing reminder of the Spanish influence and conquest decades ago.  From the hillsides checkered with corn and coffee crops, comes a horse and his owner.  Both of them carrying corn stalks piled up tall. They walk in unison past the internet café on the corner. Three girls in plaid skirts and white polos sit on a bench near the park, giggling, looking at their cell phones. I imagine probably sharing text messages and watching videos on Facebook, things teenage girls do everywhere.

My daughter interrupts my thoughts, “Agua! Agua?” She points.  Yes, there’s the water sweetie.

Right behind the schoolgirls is the pila, the public washing bin, where woman scrub clothes the same way same way their mothers and grandmothers have done for generations. I am struck by the juxtaposition, the new and the old, in the same place.

We stop and get some fruit from Doña Marta. “Just pineapple and watermelon today?” Yes, I tell her. Just pineapple and watermelon. She’s a savvy businesswoman and always tries to sell me more than what I ask for.

The brightly painted school bus, blows its’ horn and the ayudante calls out, “Antigua, ‘tigua.” The bus engine starts up and exhausts spews out from behind. I turn the stroller and try not to breathe in the fumes. A few guys hop up on the back of the bus and hang on to the ladder as it begins to move. I watch as a motorcycle wizzes by carrying a family of 4, all nuzzled together on one seat. No one is wearing a helmet.


We wait to cross the street as a small pickup drives by, cylinders of gas rattle in the back as the megaphone shouts, “Zeta Gaaaaaas.” The church bells chime. Mass is about to start.

I glace down to check on my daughter. Her little feet dangling over the edge of the stroller. I sigh. These noises and sights and smells are still new to me. I have had to learn what they are and how things work.

But I realize what’s often still foreign to me, will be familiar to my daughter.

We start to walk home past the elementary school and the one pay phone in town. We pass the local ice cream shop on our way. My daughter is still young enough to not notice if I am licking an ice cream cone, and she is not. I intend to take advantage of that fact for as long as I can. I ask for a single scoop of “Espresso Fudge” which when pronounced with a Spanish accent sounds something like “ae-sspray-sso foodge.”

I notice they’ve added white bars across the entire counter. I ask the woman what happened. She reaches for a cone and explains that they were robbed last week by a man on a bicycle. Ironic she says. I am now behind bars, but the robber roams free. I nod, empathetically and fight off the fear inside. I tell myself there are plenty of wonderful things about living here, but I make a mental note to watch out for men on bicycles.

As we walk down the bumpy road toward our house, I remember we need some printer paper. I am now regretting bringing our stroller because it won’t fit in the doorway.  I unbuckle my little girl and hold her on my hip while looking for my cash. I tell the gal behind the counter that I would like 100 pieces of paper. There is no such thing as a ream of paper, you by paper by the piece. She tries not to stare at me aghast. No one buys 100 pieces of paper at once. You buy daily paper, like daily bread. Guatemalans don’t operate in land of excess or abundance, but necessity. You only buy what you need.

We round the corner, past the cornstalk walls and cement houses as the sun dips behind the purple volcanoes. My feet our dusty and I am pretty sure the bread I bought is being squished by the watermelon in the basket below the stroller. My 100 sheets of paper are gently stacked on top of the stroller. I thank the guard holding a gun as he opens the big metal gate for us. I see my husband’s truck parked in front of our house. My heart and hands relax. I hear my daughter’s voice, “Dah-da! Dah-da!”

It is in this town where I met the man I would later marry. I became a wife and a mother in this place. And it is now here, where I now call home, a country different from the one on my passport, but perhaps equally a part of my heritage now.

. . .

Michelle is a born and raised California girl who now calls Guatemala home. She and her husband work in community development and are committed to raise a bilingual & bicultural daughter who currently says things like “mas beans.” Michelle writes about motherhood, marriage and life in between two cultures and countries atsimplycomplicated.me. You can find her on facebook | twitterinstgram.

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Chad

Today’s Flaneuring post is by JoAnna and she takes us on a walk to the post office in her town in Chad.

Mail comes to our town of Sarh, Chad, once a week. And once a week the kids and I will take a walk hoping for a magazine, a letter, or even a package! We start in a scramble for hats, headscarves, sunglasses, shoes. Our guard’s wife smiles and nods as we leave. We have no language in common, and although she understands an increasing amount of French, she doesn’t speak it. In addition to my basic French, I can meet and greet in Arabic and the local tribal language, but she is from another town, so that doesn’t help much.


Out the gate, turn left. Two little girls are perched on the step outside their gate. They smile shyly and whisper, “Nasara!” (foreigner) Somedays, I feign surprise, look around, and ask, “Really?!!! Where?!!” but today we greet them and smile. Once again I am struck by the fact that at three and four, they are better at keeping their headscarves adjusted than I am, even though I’ve been living here since before they were born.

The cloudless blue sky makes me think the choking smoke that floated into town last night from the burning sugar fields was a dream – except for the fact that I’m still coughing. The dirt road is dry and dusty but the crossroads is overtaken by a huge mud puddle. The neighbors have drilled a well, and are selling water. “Push-Push” carts filled with jeri-cans line up to be filled with water and off they go, making a trail down the street of little splashes and leaks. The hole in the wall (literally a hole in the wall, yes) shop at the corner sells foil sachets of tomato paste, canned peas, and fried cakes. Past the neighborhood mosque. The leafy mango trees outside the mosque offer a respite from the already hot sun, and there is always someone sitting, standing, talking there.

We come to a large field, and the local school is out in full force. Teenagers show up in school uniform on bikes, or in clusters of chatter and giggles, change into knee-length shorts and T-shirts (I don’t see it happening, but it does….!) and follow instructions. Warm-ups, jogging, playing football. An old jungle gym and swing set stand abandoned, the swings gone, surrounded by weeds. As we come onto a larger street, we meet bikes and motorcycles piled high with vegetables, headed to market. Several women in rainbow colored dresses walk gracefully with huge basins of tomatoes balanced on their heads, and I know they’ve crossed the river with that load, on a little dugout pirogue. When there are hippos in the river, the price of tomatoes goes up because no one wants to risk their life crossing. A woman passes us, veiled and clad head to toe in black, except for her yellow plastic flip-flops which kick up a cloud of dust with each step. A student sings a song I recognize from church, as he joins his group in the field.

Finally we come to a large roundabout, and paved road. The children balance on the curb while trying to keep up. A puppy wants to follow us, but we scare him off. We take a shortcut behind town hall, walk through a vacant lot back to the main road, and cross to the post office. As we enter its cool shady darkness, the only customers, we’re greeted politely. The door to the Post Office boxes has been locked for months, so I tell the man our box number and he goes to check if there is any mail. Relics from another age, the rotary phone on the desk and the 4 foot high metal floor fan are covered in dust and obviously haven’t been used lately. Power’s out, and it’s not “hot season” anyway, with the high “only” in the mid 90’s, (35 C.) It’s a lucky day, the kids have magazines, and each one has something to carry.

The children want to walk home by the river, but I promise that adventure for another day. Outside the front of the town hall, they laugh as always at the hippo and crocodile carved into logs… once painted neatly, I am sure, but now faded and disintegrating. Fitting mascots for a town between two rivers. Back onto the dirt road, past the field, now clear of students, the boys race for the monkey bars and dance on the top, while little sister tries her hardest just to climb up. We walk quickly back home, ready for cold water, and a peek at the magazines before schoolwork demands our attention. I’m bracing myself for the onslaught of knock-knock jokes, and demands for cute crafty recipes full of ingredients we can’t get here. Welcome home. Enjoy your mail!

JoAnna lives in southern Chad, where she homeschools her four children, sweats a lot, and is taken aback by her daughter’s love of goat intestine stew.  When she finds spare time, she reads, sews, tries new recipes, and misses the beach.  The best thing about living in Chad for her is seeing people blossom when they begin to see God’s awesome plans for them.

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Today’s Flaneuring post is by Dana Holzer and she walks us through Cochabamba, Bolivia. I just like saying that name, Cochabamba. Cochabamba.

Ah Cochabamba, Bolivia…we Montanans love you. A sprawling city of one million, where many languages are spoken in the roiling hot days and cool nights. You are hemmed in by Mt. Tunari’s peak of 17,000 feet and flanked by the largest Cristo statue in the world. Visitors quickly learn that in town the altitude is high enough and the sun strong enough that you’d better lather up with sunscreen and carry extra store-bought water.

cochabambaOur little neighborhood surrounds Parque Lincoln. Most weekends, photographers, wedding parties, folkloric dancers, semi pro video crews, and families with pets descend to the park to spend time together and to share a picnic meal. The many palm trees erupt in permanent firework shaped poofs, and the shrubs surrounding the historic fountains are trimmed to look like various animals: pigs, turkeys and ducks.

Our apartment building is a lofty white and orange stucco building with two friendly doormen, Edgar and Wenceslas. Each day we spend time talking with them while waiting for a taxi, or simply to get fútbal scores. Edgar has a quick smile and speaks Quechua and Spanish, whereas Wenceslas speaks Aymara and Spanish. When my kids have special holidays at their Bolivian school and dress up in traditional costumes, Edgar requests to have his photo taken with our family. Then he sheepishly asks for a copy to show his parents, with whom he lives. The doormen have difficult jobs, assuring security for the building which means hours of boredom, working 24 shifts in a teeny tiny room with no bed for the night. We bring fruit and baked goods to help them pass the time.


Across the street there is an old formidable brick wall enclosing our neighbor Hector’s farm. He grows lemons, fruit bearing cactuses, and his roosters are my son’s alarm clock. Hector’s wife sells a local specialty, Humintas (hot corn sweet pastries), fresh peach juice and Cokes on the weekends just outside their gate. The refrescos are poured into small clear plastic bags and tied around a straw to drink.

Sounds are important in our neighborhood. The gas truck delivering propane announces its coming with a loud clanging steel rod striking a round metal disc. A high pitched whistle signifies the knife sharpener is on his way. It’s a sound like no other; it begins as a shrill high note, then melodically tumbles down the octave. These men look as though they’ve emerged from the hills 100 years ago in their woolen vests and tire soled sandals.

The school building on our street is the site for 3 separate schools, including night school for adults. Thankfully it rarely rains in Cochabamba, because the roof leaks down onto the students. To notify the neighborhood of the upcoming school year a loud speaker blasts information for three days. A PA system is used on a daily fruit truck lumbering up and down the streets. These drivers sound violent as they shout out, “Manda, manda manda mandarinaaaaaá! The last “a” sound slides up five notes higher. The sounds are curiously like a very bad recording of a Muslim call to prayer.

Other treasures in our neighborhood include bustling fruit and veggie stand at a speedy rotunda underneath a sprawling giant tree. The two main women staffing the tienda work from 7 am to 7 pm. Giant avocados, passion fruit, potatoes, tumbo fruit and slices off of a giant pumpkin (the size of a small St. Bernard) are all for sale. Fresh, cheap and open every day.

Down the hill is our church, cobbled out of a rambling housing complex. The stucco walls are mustard yellow, and a thatched roof of woven leaves sneak in dust, dirt and rain. It’s said of Cochabamba that the air is so full of flying soil, that an airplane slams the dirt before it hits the ground.

cochabamba2Many Latin American people are known for extraverted gregariousness. Bolivians are much more reserved, which is not to say they aren’t warm. Kissing on the cheek or air next to the cheek happens perhaps 50+ times a day to greet friends, my dentist, my kids’ teachers, a new acquaintance. Sometimes when we meet new people, my kids are petted or stroked just like a cat. They are praised for their command of Spanish, and I am given the encouragement (also sometimes 50+ times a day) “poco a poco”, meaning little by little, you too will learn.

Women endearingly called cholitas are often seen outside, walking to and from their daily work. In the past they were only counted as house help and were routinely discriminated against. They have thick double braids to their waists and wear gorgeous velvet, knee length skirts with perhaps one hundred folds lengthwise in the dark fabric. Their broad straw hats are a stiff, woven white with plastic flowers on the brim. A heavy brocade cropped blouse is worn under a colorful blanket of sharp turquoise and fuchsia, tied around the shoulders. They literally carry the next generation on their backs. These beautiful women are like strong, silent sentries guarding modern people from forgetting their roots.

Dana W.M. Holzer is a Montanan who loves living in Cochabamba, Bolivia with her husband and two children. Working with a missions organization, Dana also writes for Montana Parent Magazine and for their family blog, Big Sky, Big World. Follow their (mis)adventures at Big Sky Big World.

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Novosibirsk, Russia

More flaneuring posts, hurrah! Today’s flaneur, Michele Womble, takes us through Novosibirsk, Russia. I love the shivering cold, the images. This is a beautiful flaneuring essay. Enjoy.

(The first days of November in Novosibirsk, Russia – Siberia)

The snow’s been falling for days with fierceness determination, but this morning it has gentled and is drifting softly, soothing and comforting, apologizing for its early eagerness, asking forgiveness. Our apartment buildings are built around a courtyard, and the trees within it have all taken advantage of the snow’s change of heart and adorned themselves with white scarves, caps and shawls. Even the wind is caressing tenderly today, tolerating their vanity, letting them keep their frills, touching my cheeks lightly, cold – but not so very cold yet. 18 F.   Next week it’ll drop to −30F.


I’m headed to a nearby shop to buy cream. It’s less than a five minute walk, but I’ve decided to go the long way. As I trudge up the hill leading out of the courtyard and to the street, my steps crunch and squeak – the snow resisting under my feet. If I turn right I’ll come to the remnants of a private neighborhood with four or five small log houses. Smoke from their coal fires tickles my nose and mingles with the crisp freshness of the air. I remember when there were many houses there, but in the last several years they’ve given way to multi-dwelling (and multi-level) buildings.

I turn left. Cars and buses and trolleybuses crowd each other and jockey for position on the road. Old soviet style buildings mingle with newer Russian buildings along the streets, while men and women who lived during the Soviet era hurry down the sidewalk beside young adults for whom the Soviet era was something you studied in school and stories told by your parents.   At regular intervals steps lead up from the sidewalk to a landing before shop doors. Other staircases lead down to shops in the cellars. As a rule, stores are entered from the street side, while flats on the floors above are accessed by stairwells from courtyards behind the buildings. When I first moved here 20 years ago, shops were small and simple with a limited variety of products.   Now we have 5 (or more?) large malls, several IMAX theaters, an IKEA, and the first McDonalds opened last summer. (I haven’t been to it, but it’s fun that we now have one.)


A blue and white trolleybus pulls up to the bus stop and the doors creak open.   Exiting passengers exchange places with those who have been patiently waiting, (or not so patiently, there is a little pushing and bumping) and the bus sighs and moves on.


I turn another corner into a smaller street lined with kiosks. Some of them are closed for the winter. In the summer there are also stands with bright canopies, selling various fruits and vegetables. It’s too cold for them now, and fruits and vegetables are not as plentiful or as various.   In the kiosks, cashiers retreat behind closed windows, warming themselves until a customer raps on the glass to get their attention.


A black and white magpie lands on a crate of oranges in front of one large kiosk. The kiosk window flies open and a woman with a gray wool sweater and gray wool shawl over her head bangs a plastic tray on the side under the window. He lifts, circles, and lands close by. She leans further out the window, pulls her gray wool shawl more tightly over her head and bangs again. The banging follows me as I move down the street.


Two middle-aged men in fur hats stand behind a narrow table set up beside the sidewalk. Fresh unpackaged meat covers the table. A young man passes by me going in the opposite direction, snow shovel carelessly flung over his shoulder. I pause to take a picture of a flock of pigeons fluffed up and huddled near each other to keep warm. They notice that I have noticed them; the whirr of wings alerts me as more pigeons descend, all moving toward me quickly now – most on foot, some flying.   I turn and move farther down the street.


I have come the round about way to the small shop where I’ll buy cream, and I pull open the heavy door and go in.

michelewombleMichele Womble lives in Novosibirsk, Russia (Siberia) with her husband and 2 teenage children. You can find her 2 albums, A Few Small Fish and The Calling of a Priest, on amazon, and iTunes. Visit her at brokenbreadandsmallfish.com, michelewomble.com, her facebook page or youtube channel.


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