Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) When Missing Snow

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Not sure this is even possible, but I have the same issue from an opposite cause. I miss snow so much that I think it is giving me my own version of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)! I miss the wet, cold crystals hitting my nose when I am all bundled up, and the feeling you get when you walk into a warm house and everything cold tingles as it warms up and comes back to life. I love the white blankets across the world, remaining untouched in the early morning hours. I miss snow angels and snowballs and sledding. Most of all I miss the winter fashion; my gorgeous coats and fabulous boots, and Iza’s adorable snowsuit.

I have realized that when you grow up somewhere you can’t let go of where you came from. It is the rhythm of the seasons and the smells that bring you nostalgia and a sense of home. Home for me and Kurt might just be a temporary mindset… it where we are for the moment, but real home is where we are from and something neither of us can recreate. Oddly if we look at our past and the places we have lived both of us call Ohio and Baltimore home. The two longest places each of us lived in our youth and young adulthood.

For a sure snow, Rochester, NY is the place to go. My grandparents lived in Rochester and every winter we would homage to Rochester. And every winter there was snow… no matter when we went. It was always a sure thing to find snow on the tip of your nose from December – March. Thinking of those moments feels magical and familiar.

But I suppose Baltimore is where I had the best snow experiences because I loved that it was my house and my life that got snowed in. Always worrying about our roof caving in. The inability to get our Land Rover out of our garage because it is really ill equip to manage real life but somehow can climb a mountain and then lean horizontally at a 45º angle. The rude neighbor that didn’t shovel the sidewalk on purpose, or us who forgot 1 time out of 1,000 and got a ticket. The parties at each other’s house – Charles Baker’s ‘Mid-Winter Bleak Party’ or the progressive dinners to get people moving. I remember getting stuck in a Uhaul when moving out of our apartment in Spinnaker Bay in the middle of the road, blocking traffic. Baltimore under snow is like a world disaster, no one knows what to do and the city shuts down. I remember 1 week in the spring of 2003… I was just finishing up my senior year at MICA, I had lived in my house for nearly a year and there was a tremendous snow storm which shut the city down for a week. Aside from the power being out almost everywhere, it was insanely beautiful. In only a day or two the 4′ snow drifts crusted over and you could walk on top of them wherever you wanted to go. No cars could drive, etc. It was a spectacular sight, moment and memory.

Last year in NYC we had the pleasure of two cars on a city block in Central and then East Harlem in the middle of one of the worst snow seasons. It was impossible to get anywhere even walking and our cars where plowed in every time it snowed. We were hit pretty hard by a plow on one occurrence creating a massive dent in the passenger door that made it nearly impossible to open. Our favorite moments were when little pockets of shoveled out spots were made available and you could just sneak right into a beautiful little buffer. My least favorite moments were the 3 times I got stuck in snow banks and the flat tire I got in the middle of a major highway. We loved walking with Iza through the parks… a kid that simply never gets cold. She loved sticking her tongue out and catching the white crystals. We have so many great memories of her hot little body pressed up in her Boba against us, sweaty as all get-up when we removed her person from ours. So cuddly and cute.

Last year in NYC we had the pleasure of two cars on a city block in Central and then East Harlem in the middle of one of the worst snow seasons. It was impossible to get anywhere even walking and our cars where plowed in every time it snowed. We were hit pretty hard by a plow on one occurrence creating a massive dent in the passenger door that made it nearly impossible to open. Our favorite moments were when little pockets of shoveled out spots were made available and you could just sneak right into a beautiful little buffer. My least favorite moments were the 3 times I got stuck in snow banks and the flat tire I got in the middle of a major highway. We loved walking with Iza through the parks… a kid that simply never gets cold. She loved sticking her tongue out and catching the white crystals. We have so many great memories of her hot little body pressed up in her Boba against us, sweaty as all get-up when we removed her person from ours. So cuddly and cute.

Every day I talk to my colleagues who span the East Coast and while I am grateful in some ways to not have to brave the cold for every second of every day (especially with my Bells, which worsens in the cold), but the crisp, fresh air and the soft little flakes of white are missed. A LOT. It makes me nostalgic, homesick and SAD.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px”][vcex_image_grid grid_style=”default” columns=”4″ title_type=”title” thumbnail_link=”none” lightbox_caption=”true” custom_links_target=”_self” img_width=”500″ img_height=”600″ image_ids=”3749,3750,3751,3753″][vcex_image_grid grid_style=”default” columns=”4″ title_type=”title” thumbnail_link=”none” lightbox_caption=”true” custom_links_target=”_self” img_width=”400″ img_height=”300″ image_ids=”3746,3747,3748,3754″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

The Truth

It possible to get ‘SAD’ over missing something seasonal? No. Not that I have read at least. Homesick can be a mental illness, which makes me believe that the concept of ‘missing’ or ‘nostalgia’ is a form of a mental hardship too. In this sense of nostalgia I look at it as holding onto the past so tightly that it is almost like hoarding physical objects. You feel sick to your stomach to let the memory go.

I am joking when I say I have SAD of course, but researching the concept was enlightening and contrary to popular belief about home. I truly believe that home is beyond where the heart is; it is history, family, experiences and memories that can only be repeated at the source.

The featured image photo is by Brandon Remler from his sight, “Thoughts from my Camera.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Caged Wild Horses

We came here for two reasons: 

  1. To be able to have time together and be parents
  2. To be able to work without distractions

Kurt and I just realized this morning that we are both depressed and a little “vegetable-like” being here. Depressed? What the F?! We are in Paradise!

But the truth of the matter is, we are able to spend lots more time together and are definitely more engaged parents, but we made a mistake with removing ourselves from distraction. In truth, we love distractions of the right kind – people on the street, sirens from ambulances, music, subway, etc. and stimulation with friends, arts and culture. We miss all of that, and are simply lost without it.

Walking down a NYC street, we see both material and cultural aspirational elements we strive for. Kurt’s name on the program of the Whitney, my name on the next new food concept, etc., a great meal out, a vintage pair of boots, Starbucks, etc. We see possibility to be able to rise from our place on the food chain and are reminded daily of how hard we need to work to even move up a notch. So we work harder, push more and never stop for even a second to breathe. NOTE: we also left NYC for these reasons.

TranquilHere we wake up everyday and it is beautiful, and pristine, and calm. “Tranquilo” is everyone’s favorite word… and it truly is. But, I suppose putting two energetic, manic artists essentially on an Island, away from everything tangible in the world, and making everyday Groundhog Day, is like putting three wild horses in the same cage (Iza is here by proximity). Now take away the internet and our lifeline to civilization. Just imagine our state of mind: a far cry from working.

In the back of our minds we know just how truly lucky we are to be here and that life is our practice. We are going through the depression as a way of letting go, breaking down the barriers and putting us in a strong position to move forward, when we are ready to. The beauty of this place is that time is on our side.

Math Problems: Renting vs. Buying

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We want to buy a house so we have roots, and so our home improvements are not a waste, and we broke it down over the life of the mortgage to see if it makes sense. In Guatemala, you have to know that you are essentially throwing your money to the winds and you might NEVER see your house sell, or there could be an earthquake (no insurance), or the water could rise over your house. So, we started really breaking it down: See below.
Current State: Our rent is $600 and with that comes an empty shell of a house. In order to make it comfortable (at a minimum), we need to accumulate, build and develop. Yay, projects. Kurt and I are project people. That might be our biggest issue, but we certainly have fun with it and look at everything as a learning experience. Sadly, I suppose one thing that we do (always) is excuse ourselves from reality and just allow ourselves with the freedom to dream and execute fully.  Most people do not do this and I am often given shit about it from everyone in my life.
The Rationalization: Regarding the improvements, if you really look into what anyone would spend, anywhere, you will never get compensated for the kinds of improvements we are making, Kurt’s studio is costing us a whopping $1,800 and it is a custom built studio space which he would have to do even if he rented a studio in Harlem (and there it would be $8,000 to do what we are doing here and it would still be an unusable space for anyone that is not a painter, certainly not adding any value to a resale), a Sauna is $1200, Gardening is maybe $600 tops. We don’t even pay for our 2 full-time gardeners, so we are not putting that many resources into the gardens. I just want it to look better and to have a vegetable and herb garden. We are going to literally eat what we buy. That is two weeks food budget in NYC!
But we have been thinking about buying and what that would entail. Actually we were literally ready to sign on the dotted line here, but the owner was unwilling to sell at the time (different house).
The Breakdown: The asking price is $450,000 for the house we are in. If we are to double our rent with improvements, it would be roughly $15,000 a year, and we could live here for 30 years before we spend the asking price of the house (let alone the cost of 2 full-time gardeners year after year and the cost of on going house improvements… which are getting more expensive with the lake rising). If we live in this house for our actual rent (i.e. without the improvements) we could live here for 62 years. Can you believe it? Our rent per month in NYC is $3k. If we spend roughly double our rent to include our improvements we will still only spend 5 months of rent worth in NYC for the whole year.
The New Possible Plan: After really thinking about it, why do we want to buy? Why shouldn’t we just rent and try to get a 5-10 year lease somewhere? It seems to make a lot of sense to me, considering no one these days ever recoups the energy and money put into a house. And it binds you to a place. We are global family and being nailed down to the ground of a house doesn’t appeal much to either of us. But we don’t have a real home if we don’t buy. And we don’t have roots for our children to come back to.
Back to the Rationalization: So when you break down the improvements that we are making, we are just giving ourselves a little present. Here’s the example: If we use the sauna, like most do a hot tub, we are are looking at a pretty inexpensive gym membership, considering we have the lake for swimming and the hiking for a Stairmaster. Again, in NYC, Iza’s gym was a whopping $125 a month, ours was around $250 for the two of us for the basic package. That is $4,500 a year.
Who know which is the better way with renting vs. buying these days? We certainly don’t and it is a risk either way. I suppose it is my own justification, but there is what everyone calls “The Right Way”: the way to save money and to really spend energy playing it safe and investing in our future. And then there is The Brand Way: always making things more challenging for ourselves and investing in our now. But The Brand Way could mean buying a house…. you just never know.


Too Many Options

I have touched on this before, but we struggle to make big decisions due to the endless options we create for ourselves. We have dabbled in visions of living in Shanghai, Dubai and London. Mustered a desire for India and the country-side of Southeast Asia. Entertained the prospects of living in northern Canada, or New Zealand (who wouldn’t want to be called a “Kiwi?”). Thought about picking tea leaves in Africa and even considered running off to Brazil to join the technology boom. It is a world of options, which is in someways the very definition of overwhelming.

But now we have decided on a 3-5 year plan in Guatemala / NYC and have suddenly gotten overwhelmed with the next level of choice. We have 3 possible options for housing in Atitlan and another 2 options in NYC, 3 longterm vacation plans and potentially even a full-time Stateside change (because we freaked out about the shipping costs); all very different experiences.

  1. ATITLAN 1 year rental with 3 months sublet; 9 months here, 3 months in NYC (1 month in the fall, 2 weeks traveling, 6 weeks in the Spring)
  2. ATITLAN 1 year+ here, no traveling
  3. ATITLAN Flexible rental here due to previously scheduled rentals in a house, traveling in-between
  4. NYC Move to NYC fulltime
  5. NYC Rent an apartment full-time in NYC and sublet as needed to make up the difference in rent
  6. WORK VACATION India and Thailand
  7. VACATION Western China
  8. WORK VACATION Sri Lanka
  9. STATESIDE Move to Miami area (still incredible art scene) and get a 1+ year rental


Again with our sea of choices, which do we choose? Which will help us to flourish in our careers and life strategies? Which would be the best place for Iza to grow?

We have had trouble with renting a house, mentioned in our “Problems in Paradise? Nope, it’s just us” article, and trouble with securing a house once we found it, all due to lack of ability to finalize a plan. We simply are lost in our indecisiveness and it is taking a toll on us emotionally. In someways it is just easier to stop, back off and let the world fall into place in front of us, don’t you think?

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Problems in Paradise? Nope, it’s just us.

Life is hard everywhere and requires real work to survive. There is no place left where issues don’t arise… we do know that. We are finding that the harder we push for something, the less likely it is to happen; likewise, the more we assume, the less likely any of those assumptions come true.

We are having tremendous issues with renting here. Not because the system is complicated, but because we are complicating the system. We can’t just roll with it and be simple. We have spent nearly 2 full weeks looking for a house to rent and when we found one that we loved we got into a war with one of the real estate agents, got our real estate agent to match the other agents price (which he was pissed about). Now we have been going back and forth with negotiation on the contract 3x, before receiving the cost of the internet service – It seems we have to rig an internet system across the lake which is going to cost us $1025 (USD) and $350 a month in support and service.

And that’s not all… We have to buy a boat because the local boat isn’t reliable in that location. We have to bring in our staff everyday by boat so that we can still function, and we have lost our road access in entirety. Yikes. Originally the rent was $600, but after you add in the internet, the boat and the complications, we are looking at $2400 a month, minimum. That’s maybe not a lot by NYC standards, but our goal is to save money… and suddenly we are heading upward in cost.

We could just rent a place in Pana (the largest city, here) and we could get a big house, in a nice, safe neighborhood for $850 a month, all in, with no hassle, no complication and relatively low stress. We would be 45 minutes closer to the airport, 5 minutes to the grocery store and have awesome internet.

And yet, we still want to live on the lake in the isolated single house village of Patziac. It is who we are and we are annoyingly complicated.

Where in the World is the Brand Fam to Go?

When you have an unlimited number of options, wish for great experiences and don’t have anything to tie you down, it is overwhelming. A good problem to have – but nonetheless, a serious problem. Here we are, in the most beautiful place, living like kings. We have a gorgeous house on the water, our own staff, full-time nanny, etc. It is truly amazing. We have jobs which benefit from travel and experience, so it leaves the entire world open for interpretation.

As a Food Brand Strategist I relish in the newest and best restaurant concepts on the planet. Traveling provides global perspective on community food, food quality, ingredients, and cuisines. It offers a chance to further my skill-set and share my learnings with my clients. It is also a way to build a larger network and client base.

As an Artist, Kurt is inspired by each and every situation he encounters. He appreciates the communities of each place we have lived and he gravitates towards developing concepts which suit the environment he is in. The benefit of traveling for Kurt is that he can expand his resources – materials, artisan helpers, and inspiration. As a full-time dad, he also gains 8 hours of work a day when Iza is with her nanny, which we could never have afforded in NYC.

But there are so many downfalls to traveling; disruption and wasted time are at the top of the list. Lack of stability for Iza with friends and environment is another enormous one (I moved a lot as a kid and I was ridden too early with the concept of loss well into adulthood). Kurt and I are also really ready for a shift in our life to being productive and executing on many of our goals. We know now that we are ready for home. The big issue for us is that we are stranded in fluidity – we simply can’t decide where to be. At some point shouldn’t we just forfeit choice and just pick?

Here is pretty great, why not just do it?!

The World

How Much Do You Really Need?

The stuff we need from day to day lives in a back pack. Well, 2 backpacks, 1 front pack, a few side bags and a kiddie tent that hangs off the back. We have whittled it down to the bare minimum required to survive. Of course wherever we go we accumulate food, oils, etc. but the basics for hosteling come in a neat and tidy little package.

We do have a storage unit, but that requires a whole other post.

Here I am carrying my load (baby included) while Kurt managed to bumble around with the balance of our crap. He too has a sturdy eBag on his back, a front pack and is carrying a shoulder bag. Oh and on this trip he has the Graco pack n’ play and the Fisher Price Space Saver Booster Chair which we have suddenly accumulated from my last trip home and find exceptionally useless in the eyes of Iza. When we seem to move locally we some how end up with more bags, but the same amount of stuff. Lazy packers? I think so.

What we each have with us in our packs, always: 

  • (3) Short sleeve, (1) long sleeve t-shirts
  • (1) Jeans, (2) hiking pants with zip offs
  • (1) Shorts
  • (2) Bathing suits
  • (3) Socks
  • (7) Underwear
  • (1) Sleep outfit
  • (1) Flip flops or sandels, (1) Vibram 5 fingers, (1) hiker boot
  • (1) Computer and accouterments
  • (1) Toiletries
  • (1) Water bottle
  • (1) Headlamp

We share in some of the joint things like: 

  • Iza’s clothes, toys and tent
  • Guitar and xylophone
  • Kitchen spices, oils and dry goods
  • Hiking poles
  • First aid kit

[We will provide reviews on the eBags, eBag cubes, the Marmot front pack, the KidCo PeaPod Lite and the BobaAir soon.]

We decided to go this route primarily because Kurt didn’t want us to check our bags. After going through my most recent trauma of checking two boxes through when I came from NYC I am really glad we didn’t check our bags on our way down here. It would have been a nightmare if they lost them since we are 3-hours from the lake!

After the run down of what we are actually carrying I feel like with all our gear and bags we aren’t super light packers at all! But we do try. 🙂


Losing Connection with My Partner and the Magic 4-Hour Fix

It is no secret that married couples have issues from time to time. It is understood and expected, especially in times of duress. But boy o’ boy does it suck.

For 3 months nearly we have been on the road – this means that Iza sleeps between us because she is too disrupted to feel safe or comfortable on her own. We are absolutely exhausted from travel, complicated logistical arrangements and a kicking 1-year old who whimpers on and off all night long.

We also have had some pretty big transitions in our careers – Kurt leaving Chelsea and my decision to not seek a PhD at this juncture. I feel like I want to just be a mother, Kurt feels like he just wants to work although our current roles which we set in motion last summer are reversed. It is very difficult to shift a moving ship (especially one with lots and lots of heavy cargo).

We have a child, we live in an emerging country and we are taking a big risk that may or may not pay off. We are scared. 

Through all of this we have really lost sight equally of our friendship and our intimacy. We have stopped communicating clearly or thoughtfully and we have shifted away from a daily hug, kiss or cuddle to a weekly passing moment and daily arguments.

I would suppose last night was my breaking point. I have felt for these past 3 months that Kurt has almost “left the building” out of our relationship and into himself. I don’t exist right now other than a nuisance. On my end I have lost a sense of respect and stopped showing respect and thoughtfulness to him.

Honestly it has been rough. The conversation went as well as expected (terrible) and Kurt ended up sleeping on the couch by choice.

Today was our first date day in nearly 3 months and a chance for lunch, an adventure and time together. Needless to say neither of us were that excited going into it, but we gave it a go. 1st we headed off to look at our 3rd place of the day (the 1st too Clara and Iza came to) in a town called Jabalito (pronounced Ha-ba-li-to). It is meant to be a great area for hiking. The house was very sweet, but unbelievably small. No go. We ran into our friend Josie who makes the best Kombucha and fresh American bread on the lake (Guatemalan’s interpretation of bread is full on gross, so it is wonderful to have Josie at our farmer’s market). We immediately put in our order for tomorrow’s market.  #1 Moment: Making a simple decision together.

After the house tour we went to lunch by Josie’s suggestion. We walked through town and realized that this was actually the least developed area on the lake. It was the section 8 housing if you will. Everywhere there were terrible smells and shacks. Children looked a mess in the streets and dogs were scratching their flee-infested backs. We tentatively walked to the restaurant and went in. The stench from their garden smelled of old animal feces. We looked at the menu and both agreed there was NO WAY we were going to eat there. #2 Moment: Share in a laugh over an uncomfortable situation and work together to get out of it.

At this point we ended up at lunch and had a good conversation. Hard, but good. We talked about the things we needed and what we have struggled with over the last couple of months. We talked through how to stay on track with our plan and to continue to move in the right direction. It proved that we can communicate and that we can open ourselves up again if we are willing to try. #3 Moment: Have a thoughtful conversation which is both calm and rationale.

It was now about 1.5 hours from our departure on our adventure together. We decided to take the time to go to San Juan which is where all the locale artists (painters and weavers) work. We had a great time walking around the streets and looking at the beautiful weavings. The painting were fun to see and technically quite good, but it was no where near our style. So, we went back to #2 Moment every time a painter asked us what we thought.

We took a long walk through town and ended up at the Coffee Cooperativa which is the locale coffee plantation. It is organic and very interesting. We enjoyed a walk through the woods and various coffee plants all along the way and even walked on the highway together. We decided to take a Tuk Tuk back to San Marcos. We had quite the adventure instead of our typical boat ride… one that lead to maybe 50 potential near death experiences. #4 Moment: Be reminded how sad you would be if you lost the other person (morbid but important).

Funny enough the Tuk Tuk driver only took us 3/4 of the way so we had to walk on the road to get to San Marcos. We walked through town and even helped to negotiate a craft for an Australian guy together. This is now at about 3.25 hours so 3:15 and we still needed to catch the boat home by 4pm. It was PACKED at the dock and we ended up on a boat that was over full. There were even people on the roof. A definite first which led to the absolute slowest boat ever. We were late to get Iza and had to run to meet her Nanny. Sadly we got to the door and no one answered at our new Casa. We don’t have our keys yet, so you can imagine our panic. We figured out that she had probably gone back to our house thinking that we had maybe gone there in our delay, so we set off for home. #5 moment: work together to resolve a major issue / concern.

Long story, but a necessary path for a jump start towards recovery. I love this man, I know he loves me and in our 4 magic hours together we had 5 precious moments which hopefully brought us part-way around the circle and back to being “us” again. I’m sure many problems will arise in our life together, but at least we are building a foundation to come back to.