A Week in Mexico City

 

IMG-0994Hello, friends! I’m reviving this blog on account of our first international trip as a family of four!

Now that Theo is in elementary school and our trips are bound by his school schedule, we thought Mexico City would fit the bill for a week-long break over Thanksgiving. We wanted a quick (and direct) flight given it was our first international trip with the baby. Plus, tacos. And…perhaps a smidge of wanting to prove to ourselves that we can still go on adventures, even with a 5-year-old and 7-month-old in tow? Yes, some of that, too.

I thought I’d include some highlights with a special nod to friends who have been asking about what it’s like there with kids. On to the fun stuff:

Condesa

We stayed in a colorful Airbnb in the hip, tree-lined neighborhood of Condesa. (That’s our house pictured in the top photo.) We loved walking around and checking out the architecture and lively sidewalk cafes. It reminded me a little of a tropical version of Berlin– another massive, spread-out city made up of many distinct neighborhoods, a high walkability factor, and not as dense-feeling as the population count would have you believe. Condesa was downright peaceful and relaxed. Of course, Mexico City is not all sunshine and roses–social inequalities run deep and rich and poor areas are segregated from each other in every way imaginable. We only managed to see a tiny sliver of the city in the time we were there so our view is obviously limited…which means at some point, we’ll have to go back!

Dance of the Flyers                  

The first real day we had we headed to Saks, a bustling restaurant in nearby Polanco where neighborhood families go for Sunday brunch. We then headed to Chapultepec Park, the biggest park in Mexico City (twice the size of Central Park). We happened upon the danza de los voladores (weekends in front of the National Museum of Anthropology)  a ceremony with deep spiritual and ritual significance that dates back centuries. Performers shimmy up a 100-foot pole, suspended by their ankles, and whirl around as they slowly descend to the ground. Theo could only watch by covering his eyes and peeking through his fingers. The show was free but we tipped and bought a souvenir.

Playgrounds Indoors and Out

I have a soft spot for restaurants that cater to people with children that aren’t reminiscent of Chuck E. Cheese’s. This seems to be more of a thing in Europe, and I guess it’s a thing in Mexico, too. One afternoon we headed to the nearby neighborhood of Roma to Parcela, a fun restaurant with great cocktails that had a huge playground in view of the tables. Theo ran around, the baby ate some sand, and we were able to take a (momentary) breather. As with any trip with kids, we try and hit up a playground or park at least once a day to. Those without kids might think this is boring as hell, but it’s a nice way to experience a more local vibe (Theo usually finds kids to play with) and it’s also necessary to get some energy out, especially when you’re asking them to see sites and sit in restaurants. Our favorites were Parque España and Parque Mexico, both in Condesa.

Best Seafood at Contramar

Contramar! I had read about this place for years. This seafood institution in Roma is best known for its tuna tostadas, ceviches, and a variety of coastal cuisine. We lucked out on a last-minute reservation and, while I was initially hesitant to go with little ones, the waiters were beyond accommodating. Rafe and I enjoyed it immensely, Dylan discovered fresh tortillas and Theo was pleased with the array of desserts they brought out. And I couldn’t believe how reasonable it was. The dollar goes far in Mexico (although coming from San Francisco, everything anywhere else is a bargain!)

Lucha Libre

I had done some research ahead of time to find a reputable babysitting service so we could venture out a few evenings after our kids’ early bedtime. The babysitter we were assigned happened to have been a former au pair in Berkeley and she was really great with the kids. On the first night she came, we decided to go to a lucha libre show. This was actually my idea. I was curious and thought it’d be interesting and entertaining and…it was. But as a first-time spectator with little contextual understanding, it also appeared to be fairly racist, homophobic, and misogynistic. We went as a group led by a journalist/lucha libre expert and it was interesting to hear first-hand how it’s truly part of Mexico’s cultural fabric. And I do have to say the sheer physicality of the performers was indeed impressive, but I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend this activity or ever do it again!

Frida Kalo and Coyoacán

On Wednesday, we went to Coyoacán, one of the first populated areas of Mexico City that has been beautifully preserved, full of cobblestone streets and plazas. This was the farthest we ventured on our trip (see: two small children, one of whom cries in the car and one of whom gets carsick) but it was only a 30-40 minute Uber ride away. (While the subway system is vast and efficient, with the baby we found Uber to be the best way to get around. They were plentiful, cheap, and all the drivers we encountered were friendly and patient with our car seat.)

We were in Coyoacán mainly to see the Frida Kahlo Museum. Also referred to as La Casa Azul, the museum is her childhood home (and where she lived with some dude Diego Rivera) and there are exhibitions of her art as well as her personal belongings and a lush courtyard garden. Tip: buy your tickets ahead of time at least a week in advance and get there early –yes, there’s even a line for those with tickets. On the plus side, they don’t allow too many people in at once, so you can walk around without it feeling too crowded. I’m really glad we made it here–the magic is palpable. For lunch, we headed towards nearby Plaza Hidalgo and ate a million tacos at this wonderful taco spot. Man we ate so many tacos on this trip, and never tired of them. There were tons of good-looking restaurants all around the plaza — if only we had more time to check them out!

National Museum of Anthropology

Thursday we headed to Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology) inside Chapultepec Park. The museum is divided into multiple exhibit halls with each focused on a different region of Mexico and its native cultures. The bottom floors are dedicated to archeology and the top floors to living cultures. We barely scratched the surface during our 3-hour visit. Theo was surprisingly engaged with the exhibits. He was especially impressed by the reconstructed Mayan temples and learning more about his Mayan ancestry.  We had lunch at the museum restaurant, a convenient place to refuel that had some interesting regional Mexican options on offer.

Mole and Mezcal

For Thanksgiving, we ditched the kids and went out on the town. I know, I know. But Dylan is, well, a baby, and Theo didn’t care as he was psyched to stay with the babysitter and make a piñata with her. Our first stop was to sample some mezcal at a cozy little bar called La Clandestina. Who knew there were so many varieties of mezcal? After we taste-tested a few varieties, we walked a few blocks to Azul Condesa on recommendation from our Airbnb host. It was an untraditional Thanksgiving, that’s for sure. No turkey but we had an amazing meal–Rafe had the best mole of his life, and I had a wonderful sopa de tortilla. All around, it’s a fantastic menu of well-executed Mexican standards and lesser-known indigenous specialties. And no kids with us meant we actually got to enjoy the food!

Sweet Ending 

On our last day in the city we laid low as we had 2-am wakeup time the next day. We ended our trip on a sweet note at El Morro Churro. The churros come out still hot and they give you a rich chocolate sauce for dipping. Tip: let the kids run off their churro energy at nearby Parque Mexico.

In retrospect, we crammed in a lot in the span of a week, especially considering all the naptimes and playground stops we took. Traveling with two young kids is no joke, but Mexico City was a great family-friendly choice and I can’t wait to go back someday.

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An Itchy End to 2017 (And Fleeing to a Better 2018)

I write to you from the Oceana condos,  a cheesy 80s Miami-style complex in a less urban, beachier part of town. Why are we here? Well…our last Airbnb, as hip as it was, was infested with….fleas. I know. It has been a difficult last few days, to say the least, trying to find another place at the last minute. Theo and I bore the brunt of the flea situation as we both seem to be allergic to the bites. Rafe not so much.

New Year’s itself was the worst, mostly due to the severe allergic reactions, lack of sleep, and trying to de-flea everyone and everything. On New Years Day, Theo and I stayed in a hotel while Rafe packed up. Theo was crying he was so itchy and we just couldn’t take it any longer. Our Airbnb hosts insisted by way of magical thinking that there were no fleas but we literally caught them (the fleas) in the act of biting us and Theo and I have 50 plus flea bites as evidence. They have two cats and, while they weren’t there while we were there, apparently once cats/dogs leave…

“When the preferred host is absent, such as during vacation, a population of hungry adult fleas will accumulate. Hungry fleas will not discriminate between blood from pets and other animals and will attack almost any warm-blooded animal (editors note: i.e. us) that comes near.”

Now we’re in a feud with the hosts: they want US to pay THEM for the cost of the fumigator and the days we didn’t end up staying at their place! Airbnb couldn’t be less helpful. I’ve been their fan since day one. No longer. They charge an insane “service fee” yet their service is non-existent.

Anyhow, now that we’re in a more relaxed part of town, we’re all feeling better. I mean, we have nothing to complain about. Ocean breeze (ok more than a breeze- the winds here are so intense they have a special name), condos galore, lush flora, etc. AND they have a pool, so Theo is a happy little guy. Functioning pools are a rarity these days since Cape Town is experiencing its worst drought in over 100 years, so we’re lucky (aside from the fleas). Not a bad way to end our trip.

Speaking of the end of our trip, by this time next week we will be back in our beds in “our California house,” as Theo refers to it. As cliche as it sounds, I just can’t believe how fast time has flown!

Wishing you a peaceful and itchless 2018.

Clifton Beach near our new place.  Beautiful beachfront houses and fine sand beaches, Cape Town’s version of Malibu. Here’s Theo preparing for a head-dive into the sand.
It rained and rained all day but then the sun came out in the evening, so we were treated to a blissfully empty beach. If this place wasn’t a 24-hour plane ride from the Bay Area, I think we could live here.
I really do love long walks on the beach. And looking wistfully over my shoulder.
It’s summertime in Camps Bay, which means tourist season! Less so on cloudy days.
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For comparison, this is the beach on a sunny day!
Shirtless dinners in the shared garden.

In the Bush

As you can see, some photos of our safari last week in the Western Cape. Rafe took better pics with a real camera but I wanted to share these for now and, before I forget, write down some highlights. It was a crazy few days!

• We slept for two nights in our own little thatched-roof lodge in the bush. When our nice safari guide helped us into our room I immediately freaked out: there was a huge cockroach flying over the bed. HUGE! COCKROACH! FLYING! He simply caught it with HIS BARE HANDS and tossed it out the door NBD. 

Early the first day, we saw a just-born wildebeest take its first steps. Wildebeests aren’t exactly the cutest animals but newborns! Always cute.

• We were very nearly charged by a rhino. We learned you can tell a rhino is pissed when it startspraying its pee everywhere. You don’t want to be near a rhino when its in this mood. The jeep wheels spun in the mud a little too long for my comfort before we were able to back far, far way.

• We ate our meals in a “lapa” along with the other guests. Theo was enthralled with all the decorative torches and singing songs with the other safari guides around a fire. 

On one ride, an elephant walked over to our open-air jeep and poked his trunk (and tusks!) right into the vehicle. He was sniffing around for snacks. We accidentally left some fruit and crackers in our day bag. Thankfully, Theo was not regarded as snack food.

On another ride, we came across an elephant carcass that was half bones and half skin and guts. It had died of natural causes months before and was just laying there near the road in a semi-petrified state. It was a rather gruesome and bizarre sight to behold. Not sure I’ll get that image out of my mind anytime soon!

• The biggest highlight was probably the night safari that occurred WAY past Theo’s normal bedtime. He was out of his mind excited and was so proud to “help” with his little red lantern. Our guide drove us around deep into the bush to see what we could find. We found lions! They were just sitting there, roaring at other lions way in the distance we couldn’t see. They didn’t care at at all that we were mere feet from them. We were no more than 4 feet away. These particular lions aren’t intimidated by (or hungry for) people. They just do not give a hoot. Their mighty roars were so loud they vibrated our entire bodies. It was awesome, in the truest sense of the word. 

• On the final morning, our safari guide (imagine Steve Irwin but South African) was set to take us to the airport. We were surprised when he picked us up with his two young boys in the van, too. Since we had hours to kill before our flight back to Cape Town, he suggested we all make a day of it in the nearby town of Port Elizabeth. We ended up at Funky Frogs, an indoor play space in a random mall close the airport. His said his kids were homeschooled and didn’t have much interaction with other children so he was keen on having the kids all play together. Unfortunately, Theo was exhausted and our day of playtime was cut short. The whole thing was pretty awkward, also in part because the guide would not shut up about his various insane conspiracy theories.

We learned just how serious poaching is here. On one ride, our guide kept looking up at a helicopter flying in the distance. He said he was worried that they were poachers casing the reserve. Already two of their rhinos were recently attacked and had their horns partially sawed off.

• Theo knows a ton of random animal facts! He can talk your ear off about the difference between crocodiles and alligators, why rhinos are killed for their horns, and how dung beetles lay their eggs. I’d like to say this is due to the many educational books we read him, but it’s really thanks to this PBS Kids show called WildKratts (he’s obsessed with it).

• I’ll personally never forget the night safari and just the feeling of the breeze in our hair, snuggled up with each other under wool blankets as our guide drove across the bush. We were often the only guests in the jeep so it felt very private. Just our little family in the wild (well, and the guide, of course. And the animals.)

Summer Christmas

We came back from our safari (post to come!) with just two days to get ready for Christmas and settle into our new apartment. We switched apartments to a cheaper one in the same neighborhood (our current place was jacking up the price for the holidays) but this one is so nicely designed (it captures my aesthetic so completely it feels weird) so can’t complain!

We had a lot to do with not a lot of time but we pulled it off. Real Christmas trees aren’t so popular here. In fact, I asked on an expat forum where we might buy one, and someone responded that the variety that grows here are very expensive, die quickly, and have stabby bristles making decorating them “rather painful.” So…plastic tree it was! And a tiny one at that (can you spot in the photo above? You have to look hard!)

Christmas itself was beyond mellow. Theo was happy as Santa came all the way to Cape Town to fill our stockings and deliver a toy toolbox and a few Lego sets he’d been eyeing. I’m happy that the lego sets are providing hours of independent play (on the flip side, we’ve officially entered the parenting stage where we frequently step on tiny sharp legos that are left on the floor). After presents, we walked along the beach (the perks of a Summer Christmas!) and Theo rolled down some sand dunes. An early dinner with all the trimmings wrapped up the day and that was that…fairly quiet but probably the least stressful Christmas on record.

Wait a Minute

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St James Beach and the iconic bathing huts.

Seriously, how did it get to be mid-December already?! Theo has a chocolate advent calendar and we’re already at door number 15!

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Rafe in his element, i.e. on his laptop in a coffee shop.

We’ve been here in Cape Town so long I feel like we live here. We’ve certainly developed our routines. Theo has a great babysitter who he adores since she’s a former architect and can build houses out of any material lying around. Rafe has his usual coffee shops (to the point where one day my phone wasn’t working and I knew exactly where to find him) and I’ve gotten to know all the gals at the yoga studio around the corner. All to say, this has been a good place for us to spend an extended amount of time…but it’s never far from my mind that we’re on the other side of the world!

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Cape Town’s Community House, started as a base for anti-apartheid organizations, continues to be a center for many social justice organizations like Whole World Women’s Association.

I’ve been working a bit with Whole World Women’s Association, a refugee rights organization here. I got to know their badass director (from afar) when I managed communications at an org in SF and I had always admired her. Working with her directly has been eye-opening. Cape Town is a lovely city for someone like me visiting – but it’s a very racially and economically divided city with a lot of corruption and human rights abuses….and it’s the worst for those that come here as refugees and are relegated to the margins of society.

Anyhow, on a lighter note, this weekend we’re going to Port Elizabeth, a port town an a hour and a half flight from Cape Town. The beaches are supposedly better for swimming (the water on this side is very cold and it has been SUPER windy here lately). We’ll also be going on a short safari not too far from there. Theo is very excited, but I think he thinks all kids do this kind of stuff. He doesn’t realize how lucky he is! Safaris are everywhere in books, toys, and programs for kids so I think it’s become like, oh yeah, a safari just like on TV. I hope the real deal will leave a lasting impression!

It was actually rather difficult to find a safari that would allow children as young as Theo, and also one that wasn’t in a malarial zone. But we couldn’t come all the way here and not go on one. Will report back!

And to wrap this up, here are some recent photos:

Beach at Camp’s Bay.  The water here is pretty rough and filled with sharks (!) but they have these protected “tide pool” areas that are a nice option to being caught in a rip current and/or being eaten by a shark.
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Stunning local flora on display at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
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“Kid’s tea” at the famous Mount Nelson Hotel. They’re known for their elaborate afternoon tea services but they had this special for kids so we did that one. Theo was a proper gentleman, no doubt because that large teapot in the lefthand corner was filled with hot chocolate.
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Hangin cool at the skate ramp at a local indie music festival.
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Admiring his gingerbread house construction skills and deciding which part to eat first.
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First time at a planetarium. LOTs of questions. Great place to spend some time indoors on a day it was so windy I thought Theo would fly away.

Cape Town Take 2

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Ug WordPress is disappearing my posts! Anyhow – wow – we’ve been in Cape Town Now for three weeks already! We arrived after our long journey totally wiped out. It was literally 24 hours door-to-door from England to our new apartment in Cape Town.  There’s only a 2 hour time difference between Europe and South Africa, but that flight, oy – it took us a few days to recover (don’t remind me that our trip home will be twice as long!) It’s very sunny here (it’s summer here after all) and the sun sets almost four hours later. When we first arrived, we were like vampires being let out in the light. Let’s just say we’re going through a lot of sunscreen.
I had been to–and fallen in love with–Cape Town in 2013 and was already familiar with our neighborhood. It’s called Gardens, and it’s close to downtown but a bit quieter, yet still has a lot of fun restaurants and local flavor. Everything is walkable, and it seems to be popular with families and young professionals. We found a nice, bright apartment with a patio — a good find given that it’s high season.
What I had forgotten about was how seriously they take security here. At night, I accidentally pressed an emergency button in the bedroom. Hey, it was located right next to the light switch for the bedside lamp! Within 30 seconds, an armed security guard, dressed like a member of the SWAT team, appeared at our door to make sure everything was ok.  I won’t be making that mistake again! But not to worry – our area is safe and we’ve had zero concerns about safety. At night we take Ubers at night and they’re cheap and reliable.
Happily, Rafe and Theo love it here as much as I hoped they would. And we’ve found a great babysitter (I think Theo has his first crush) who’s now coming three half days a week giving us some much-needed to time to focus on work and projects.
I have so much to catch you up on, more to come, but first some photos from our first week or so:
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Down at the V & A Waterfront, sort of like Fisherman’s Wharf but better with more things for kids. Everything has been exceedingly kid-friendly here (as it is in much of Europe.) Maybe it’s not that everywhere else is kid-friendly so much as the fact that SF (and the US?) is not!
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Rooftop bar in our neighborhood (and no, that view does not get old!)
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We found a little train that went around the perimeter of the waterfront. Pure bliss.
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The aerial cable car up to Table Mountain. I get vertigo just looking at this photo! And indeed I had vertigo while taking this photo, too.
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Our living/dining room area. I love the open layout with the kitchen and would love to have a similar layout in a house one day.
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Walking down our block to dinner. A lot of good “foodie” restaurants around here. And as I mentioned above, many places are so kid friendly. As in, they have playgrounds attached! One even had Theo go bake cookies in the kitchen while we ate our dinner. 
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This is Richard, an incredible community activist/pastor/rock n’ roll musician who gave me a personal tour of District 6, an inner-city neighborhood (once known as the soul of the city) that was torn apart by the apartheid regime in the sixties and seventies. He grew up in the area and had many crazy stories to share. He also showed me the urban gardens he started that hire homeless people and help them rebuild their lives. Very interesting to see another side of the city. 
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Our neighborhood playground. Everything is so colorful here!

Penguins and Wine

(I know it has been a while since I’ve last blogged! I had written a few updates about our last 3 weeks in Cape Town but they have vanished into the ether!! I’m working with WordPress to get them back up. In the meantime…)

2017-11-28 13.12.59Last week, we stayed overnight on this beautiful old wine farm about an hour outside of Cape Town. Our room even came with a dog (pictured below, not above.) Theo was enamored.

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We enjoyed sampling wines and visiting a few wineries, but the highlight for sure was our visit to the penguin colony on the drive there. Stony Point Nature Reserve is home to one of the largest successful breeding colonies of penguins in the world.

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The breeding ground is near an old abandoned whaling station where until the 30s, hundreds of whales were killed each year for their oil. When the whale station finally closed, the penguins started to breed here. Penguins typically nest on islands to keep away from predators, so it’s quite a phenomenon to find a colony on the mainland.

There’s a more famous colony (don’t tell these penguins) at Boulder’s Beach but we heard it was very crowded with tourists so we headed here instead. There was hardly anyone there when we visited, which was great as we had some nice one-on-one time to commune with the penguins and also I realize I can’t stand crowds anymore.

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Not much separates you from the penguins except for some mesh fencing and a boardwalk winding through the area. It was really incredible to be so close to these adorably comical creatures!

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Being here made me think how before we left on our trip, I was worried about how taking Theo out of his routine (and preschool) would affect him. I’d say he’s more than ok!

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A Little Bit Country

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After London, we spent a week in the Cotswolds. It was a welcome break from dreary, busy London. It was still dreary in the country but blissfully quiet. I guess I’m not as much of an urbanite as I thought!

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We stayed in a stone cottage in the village of Nailsworth, known for its historical mills and…not sure what else really! We went there on a bit of a lark. I had never seen the English countryside though and it did not disappoint. The surrounding scenery made me feel like I was on the set of an English period film, and we all really enjoyed walking the footpaths into town. The fall foliage was just outta this world intense with color.

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It was damp and cold for the most part so we stayed indoors much of the time building fires in the fireplace, discovering new pubs (well, new to us –  some of them dated back to the late 1500s!) and taking muddy walks. Thankfully the family who owns the cottage had rain boots that magically fit us all.

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We also took a day trip to Bath, where we had a proper old school afternoon tea. And while Theo and Rafe explored the Roman baths, I had the pleasure of going to a real bathhouse with natural hot springs. When in Bath…

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The quiet time gave us some time to rest up before our long journey to South Africa (where we are now) and also allowed to us think a little deeper about next steps, including our return. While we were there, we were offered a spot at a good preschool near our house–a miracle I didn’t think would happen–so we decided to accept it.

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Truth be told, we had also talked about taking the rest of the year to continue traveling but we do miss everyone at home and think Theo would do well to be around peers. So, we decided to return, just a little later than we had initially planned. We’ll miss the holidays but we’ll be back in mid-January, in time for Theo to start at his new preschool, his 4th (!) birthday, and settling back into life in San Francisco.