OK, so we can’t go to movies. We can’t go to restaurants. We can’t explore new cities, make new friends, photograph churches, practice Spanish, soak up the culture. But we can get outside and explore nature!
So while we have been living in Grandma’s condo in Mechanicsburg, PA, this Spring and summer, we at Messy Suitcase have been spending a lot of time on foot exploring the Appalachian Trail here. You can access an interactive map to get info about the trail in your region, if you live in the northeast United States.
Here are a few facts about the AT:
Total Length: 2,190 Miles
Number of States the ATTraverses: 14
Approximate Gain/Loss in Elevation: 464,500 Feet
Visitors Each Year: 3 Million
Here in Cumberland County, the trail has its lowest, flattest stretches, but there are still some hills to climb. Much of it runs along the Conodoguinet Creek.
How to Hike Safely in the Age of COVID-19
We have several rules we follow when hiking. We wear lightweight gators around our necks to pull up for use as masks should we pass anyone. We start early (to avoid heat) or hike during off-peak times because NO ONE else bothers to mask. We move well off the trail to let people pass. We wear long pants because of ticks. We are gluttons when we pass wild black raspberry or wild raspberry patches.
If you can’t be adventuring because of COVID-19, then it’s time to go on some journeys of the palate! So last night I created Frozen Pineapple Margaritas. I didn’t have Triple Sec but Simple Syrup did the trick. Here is the recipe:
1 cup ice
1/2 cup frozen pineapples
1 1/2 ounces tequila (White is recommended but reposado is also delicious)
1 ounce triple sec (or Simple Syrup)
1 ounce lime juice
Garnish: Slice of lime
In a blender chop ice and pineapples. You may need to add lime juice at this stage.
Add other ingredients.
Blend until smooth.
Poor into chilled class with lime garnish.
Makes 1 margarita. Obviously multiply the recipe to make more. A blender will have enough room for three. Feel free to add extra ice depending on how thick you like your margaritas and how hot it is outside.
Happy Valentine’s Day! We wanted to celebrate the annual day of love by sharing the story of our love locks.
A couple of weeks ago, Bob and I attached a little gold padlock to the new Love Lock Bridge near the Riverwalk in San Antonio to lock our love forever, then kissed and took a selfie to mark the occasion. On our lock was written in Sharpie “RG & LH,” inside a hand-drawn heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow. The bridge was actually a chainlink fence along the San Antonio River, but it was covered with hundreds of locks of other couples declaring their undying love.
It was the 15th time we have declared our forever love by
placing a lock on a bridge. Normally we are not super-sentimental people, but
love locks are a ritual we have grown to cherish during our travels, leaving
our mark on bridges and walls all over the United States, Europe and Mexico (so
It all started in the summer of 2016, when I was planning to
accompany Gavin’s scout troop on a week in the romantic city of Paris. Before
we left, Bob gave me a padlock and asked me to write our initials on it and
hang it on the Pont des Arts Bridge, which was famous for having so many
lovers’ padlocks affixed to it that it groaned under the weight, and
authorities had had to cut them off. He had seen the bridge during a weekend he
spent alone in Paris during a business trip, and thought it would be nice to
have our own lock there.
Surprised and touched by this rare sentimentality, I happily obliged. After the troop set off for the next leg of their trip, Switzerland, I went down to the River Seine and searched for the love locks. The city had decommissioned the Pont des Arts Bridge in 2015 because of the weight of the locks, so I went to the Pont Neuf. It was covered with thousands of lovers’ padlocks tumbling down the banisters and onto the railings of the river walls beyond. Across the River Seine from where I stood was a magnificent view of the Louvre. I locked our padlock, blew a kiss to Bob across the ocean, and took pictures. I’m sure if the locks get too heavy, authorities will cut them off again. But until then, RG & LH will grace the Pont Neuf in Paris, the city of lovers.
It was a grand, and small, gesture of love. It felt good. It
made me think about why I had married this man, what we had experienced
together, and how special our life was.
Three years later, we were visiting my brother Patrick in
Hamburg, Germany, and walking along the Elbe River when we saw another bridge
covered with lovers’ locks. We didn’t realize the tradition had expanded beyond
Paris. Since we were leaving the country the next day, we went and found a
hardware store to buy a lock, wrote RG
& LH with a Sharpie and enlisted Patrick to hang it for us. A few weeks
later, he sent a photo of our lock on the bridge. (Thanks, Pat!)
And with that, we were off, searching for love lock bridges, or creating our own, everywhere we went, together or apart. While on a five-week tour through Europe, we hung locks everywhere.
In London, we strolled across the pedestrian Jubilee Bridge and listened to a street musician playing Caribbean steel drums while we snapped our padlock in a spot all its own and kissed above the Thames River.
After a long day of sightseeing as a family in Rome, when Gavin’s and my feet were aching from miles of walking, Bob trekked back in the rain to hang a lock over the Tiber River.
Farther south in Sorrento, on a solo weekend trip while I
was off doing genealogy searching with some Italian cousins, Bob discovered an
iron fence with love locks along the Mediterranean coastline about a mile from
his hotel during his morning run. He spent the afternoon searching for a
padlock and a Sharpie, but a torrential downpour forced him to wait to return
until the next morning, when a break in the rain gave him time to quickly walk
there and fix the lock in place before heading for the train station.
In Greece, during a daylong boat trip, Hydra, an idyllic fishing village where bleached-white houses climb up the mountainside from the azure Mediterranean, offered herself as an entrancingly scenic host to our love lock.
The tradition continued when we returned to North America. First, we affixed a love lock to a bridge in Ludlow, Vermont, where we have our second home.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Then we headed down to live in Mexico for the first six months of 2019. During a two-night on break the road trip south, we took the streetcar to hang a lock on a chain-link fence in New Orleans, under a banner that read Love Locks NOLA in front of the Eiffel Society, a club built from parts of a former Eiffel Tower eatery.
When we came to Mexico in January 2019, the first city we stayed in was Leon, where we found the Puente Del Amor (love locks bridge) at one end of the Causeway of Heroes, a wide pedestrian walkway that serves as the gateway into the old city. After spending an afternoon looking for ferreterias (hardware stores) to buy a padlock, we put our lock through the padlock of another lock at the top. The bridge looked down upon a highway, with mountains in the distance.
Lake Chapala, Mexico
We never found a good spot in Tlaquepaque, where we lived for four months, or Guadalajara, the city next door. But we visited beautiful Lake Chapala, half an hour south, for a day trip and walked out to the end of a fishing pier to hang our lock on a rusted turquoise railing overlooking Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. On the way, we had been stopped by announcers for a local radio station who were broadcasting live, and thus posed for the obligatory selfie in our new orange Guadalajara T-shirts.
By far the most interesting place to hang our lock was the
magical town of Guanajuato, where there’s an alley so narrow that people can
kiss from across two balconies. There’s a tragic legend of a young man who was
killed for stealing a kiss from the daughter of a rich man. We put up our lock
and kissed across the alley. (Fortunately, Bob survived.)
We lived in Vermont during summer 2019, and took a couple of trips to Montreal, Canada, hanging one lock on a bridge overlooking Gay Village and the other on a small bridge in the main pedestrian area along the St. Lawrence River, looking out at a huge Ferris Wheel.
The Farm, Cascade, Pennsylvania
When we visited The Farm, the family homestead in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania where Lisa’s paternal grandmother grew up, we hung a love lock from the rusty metal rope that secures the entrance to the old lane.
We were occasionally thwarted in our efforts. In the beach town of Cambrils, Spain, there was no official Love Locks bridge, so we scouted the promenade along the ocean but never found a spot where we could thread a padlock. There was an official Love Locks spot in Barcelona, but we didn’t have time to visit it. We have looked several times while in Burlington, VT, but have not yet found a spot for a padlock.
Part of the tradition of the Love Locks is to throw the keys into the river to seal your eternal love, but we don’t do that because we don’t think it’s good for the health of the fish or the river. Thus we still hold all the keys to each other’s hearts.
Our Love Locks Map
Click on each pin to see an image of the lock in its home!
Up Next …
We have just arrived in Mexico City and are looking for a place to hang our 16th lock. We’ll keep you posted!
I am sitting by the pool of Casa Estrella in Guanajuato,
looking out at the spectacular view that has become warmly familiar in the five
and a half weeks we have been here. I have barely eaten in three days.
Blame my tummy. And my determination to experience everything
Mexico has to offer.
Since we are trying to experience true Mexico and not
tourist Mexico, we are NOT eating at the Hard Rock Café or the typical tourist
traps. We are eating the Mexican way.
My first street food foray, in Leon:
An Agua Fresca Mandarina (Mandarin Orange Fresh Water)
straight out of a plastic bag. It was delicious,
gave me no side effects, and emboldened me to be adventurous!
We only drink bottled water, like all Mexicans. We buy local
produce, bread, chicken and fish at local mercados (markets) and tianguis
(pop-up markets), which means we have to ignore the presence of the flies and wash
everything carefully with disinfectant before we can eat them. We enjoy meals from
puestos, food carts, often with seats, eating tacos, tortas and lonches (different types of sandwiches, filled with meat and cometimes smothered with sauce) and gorditos (little filled pancakes).
We love buying raspadas, which are shave-ice and syrupy fresh fruit, often
accompanied by sugar-drunk bees.
A delicious cup full of salmonella
(Just kidding – raspadas never made us sick.
Only supremely happy. Every damn day.)
We love to eat at out-of-the-way, hole-in-the-wall places,
where we have made some magnificent discoveries. I found the best green salsa I
experienced in Mexico, with mouthwatering chunks of avocado, at a walk-up food
stand in the Mercado at Plaza Embajadoras. Whenever I can, I indulge in Horchatas and Horchata Fresas, a uniquely Mexican rice, cinnamon and vanilla drink that
is made even better by adding fresh strawberries.
My favorite street food in Tlaquepaque: Elote (corn)
with a (mystery) crema (cream of indeterminate origin)
and queso (shredded cheese)
We drink Mexican craft beers, local mescals, and a variety of
tequilas. We indulge in nieve de garafas, ice cream handmade in metal jugs
with ice and energetic stirring with a wooden mallet. Flavors include elote
(corn), pay de manzana (apple pie, with real pieces of pie), queso de zarzamora
(blackberry cheesecake), Ferrero Rocher, Nescafe, and often 10 or 20 more. Bob’s
favorite place in Tlaquepaque offered at least 60 flavors.
Hecho a Mano
Everything is handmade in Mexico. Who knows how often hands
are washed. You just have to not think about it.
The best salsa in the world …
… and the pork tacos I smothered with them
And the fact is, sometimes you don’t have a choice where you eat. You’re driving to the beach and there’s only one restaurant to choose from at the mid-point when everyone’s hungry. So you chow down and hope for the best. And sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind if you really want to experience a place.
Paying the Price
So occasionally we pay the price for our adventurousness with
a few days of service to the commode.I
don’t think you need me to explain the symptoms. It has happened to Beto and me
twice and Lex only once (she is not as adventurous, which may be a good thing).
Each bout takes four or five days to recover, during which
we rest a lot (because we’re weak and moving is painful) and enjoy a riveting
diet of ginger ale, Saladitas (Saltine crackers), Gatorade and chicken and rice
soup. We call them inadvertent dieting opportunities, which have given us a chance to shed the pounds we gained scarfing down ice cream through every city we visited in Europe last fall. I assume each tummy bout makes our systems stronger and more acclimated to whatever may be in the food.
I look at it this way: When we first moved to Mexico, I had issues with my legs, calves, and Achilles tendons for the first two months as my body adjusted to the fact that I was walking many miles every day on hard sidewalks or cobblestone in flat shoes. My stomach has had to make the same adjustment to different foods, spices, and even microorganisms.
To Quote Kelly Clarkson
As Kelly Clarkson would say, “What doesn’t kill you makes
There is a big bronze statue of the fictional character Don
Quixote right outside, and a brilliant baritone singing in front of the house
next door, so who we were we to say no?
Who the Heck is Don Quixote?
For those not well-versed in literary endeavors, Don Quixote
is a fictional character created by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes in a
book rather awkwardly titled The Ingenious Gentleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha. This
is what Wikipedia has to say about it:
Published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615, Don
Quixote is the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish
literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature, it regularly appears high on
lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published, such as the Bokklubben World Library collection that
cites Don Quixote as the authors’ choice for the “best literary
work ever written”.
Needless to say, no one in my family has read it, not
even Aryk, the writer and English Literature major. This is what Wikipedia says
it is about:
The story follows the adventures of a noble (hidalgo) named Alonso Quixano who reads so
many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity
and decides to become a knight-errant (caballero
andante), reviving chivalry and serving his country, under the name Don
Quixote de la Mancha. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho
Panza, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing
with Don Quixote’s rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood.
Don Quixote, in the first part of the book, does not see the world for what it
is and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story.
Don Quixote and My Mother
My late mother’s favorite musical was The Man of La Mancha, a 1965 musical about Don Quixote. She would have really enjoyed this museum. If you have ever heard the song The Impossible Dream, you should know it comes from this musical. (I realize this is irrelevant, but I had to share it anyway.)
The museum, located a couple of blocks off the main
square, was founded in 1987 by the collector Eulalio Ferrer Rodríguez, a former
captain in the Spanish Civil War who, legend has it, traded a pack of cigarettes
for the book Don Quixote, and the book helped keep him
sane and captured his imagination during the time he spent in a refugee camp in
France. An entrepreneur involved in communications and advertising, he later immigrated
to Mexico and brought his devotion to Don Quixote to Guanajuato, which is now
famous for its annual, month-long Cervantino festival – even though Cervantes himself
never set foot in this city!
Eulalio Ferre Rodriguez
An Amazing Variety of Art
The museum is quite good. It’s situated in what was
probably the mansion of a mine-owner, and it houses in 16 rooms a striking collection
of different types of pieces by different artists whose theme revolves around
the figure of Don Quixote and the rest of the characters in the novel. There
are bronze sculptures, surreal paintings, sketches, multimedia pieces and more!
All was not completely smooth in our trip across the country
and into Mexico,as we ran into several car-related setbacks.
First, the Car Accident
The first came in late August when Lexie was working on
getting her driver’s license. One Saturday we decided to get some interstate
driving experience in and drive north on I-76, away from the crowded metro Denver
area. We were concentrating on watching cars that were merging onto the highway,
as Denver drivers have a bad habit of expecting cars already on the highway to
yield to them. Driving in the right-hand lane, we came to an entrance ramp
where a car and medium sized U-Haul truck had just gotten on the merge ramp. We
were opposite the truck so we couldn’t speed up, but before we could even slow
down the U-Haul moved right into our lane. Lexie’s immediate reaction was to
shift left to avoid the truck, but unfortunately, another car was there. We hit
that car, bounced off, and Lexie lost control. Suddenly we were heading for the
concrete median at 65 mph. Crash! Airbags deployed. Things didn’t end well for
the truck, or for Lexie’s hand, which was broken and in a cast for 6 weeks.
driver just drove on up the road. I assume he never even saw
This set off a chain reaction. First, we had to find a new
truck. Unfortunately, we had already ordered a custom topper which only fit
Toyota Tacomas through 2015, and it was black. So we started looking, all over
the country for a low-mileage 2015 Tacoma in a color compatible with black.
This consumed valuable time that we needed for packing and finishing up on the
house, but we eventually found a charcoal one in the Denver area that had about
50,000 miles less than our older 2012 truck.
License & Registration
The accident also meant that Lexie wouldn’t be able to get
her driver’s license in Colorado, because she could not drive again till she
got her cast off, which would be only a few days before our scheduled
departure. We would have to figure out that later.
And it created some difficulties in getting license plates
and registration for the new car in Colorado since CO had recently switched to
a new computer system which had created a backlog.
Next, the Battery
Our troubles in CO weren’t over yet. On the day before we
were scheduled to leave, the new truck wouldn’t start. We had it jumped and I
took it to NAPA to get the battery tested. The battery was bad, and I changed
it out in the NAPA parking lot.
For our last meal in the Denver area, we decided to go to
Woody’s Pizza in Golden, our favorite pizza place. They make a wide variety of delicious
pizzas, and you go to the counter and grab a slice of whatever pizza just came
out of the oven. On the way, we were stopped at a red light on a fairly major
road, 2nd in line. Traffic was stopped behind us. The light turned
green, but the person in front of decided he wanted to change lanes so he
didn’t move until traffic on our left had cleared. As we sat waiting, the woman
in a large truck behind us suddenly rammed into the back of our truck. Our
truck was half packed, but fortunately it was drivable, with only damage to our
tailgate and bumper. Because of our tight travel schedule to make it across the
country and catch a plane to Europe, it would be three months before we could
get the damage repaired.
The new truck with topper, right before the accident
So we had to drive across the country with a badly damaged
bumper held on by a bungee cord.
Our Car Registration Expires
We parked our truck at Lisa’s brother’s house in northern
Virginia and he graciously took us to the airport for our European trip. During
the time away, our temporary Colorado registration expired, so we had to call
the car dealership from Greece to get an extension sent to Lisa’s brother so we
wouldn’t be driving illegally when we got back.
Back to Lexie’s Driver’s License
Back from Europe, our plan was to spend some time in our
Vermont house and get Lexie the driving practice necessary to pass the test. Then
we would both fly back to CO, get the new car registration and take the test.
However, since we own property in Vermont we investigated whether Lexie could
get her license and whether we could register the car there. We found out we
could do both, and now Lexie is a resident of Vermont. We also registered the
car there. Vermont DMV took our CO title and told us it would be a few weeks
before our registration and title would arrive in the mail (to our Colorado
Unfortunately, the weather was abnormally snowy so we didn’t
get as much driving practice in as we expected, still Lexie was ready to take
the test a few days before our scheduled departure. Unfortunately, she didn’t
pass, mostly because the examiner didn’t like the way she parallel-parked the
truck. (Personally, I completely avoid parallel parking the truck because I
can’t do it.) She actually parallel-parked perfectly, but before she had time
to straighten the wheels out, the instructor told her she was finished and to
move on – and then deducted points for not straightening out the truck!
It was frustrating, but we rescheduled the test for the day
before we were scheduled to leave VT. Then, just as we were getting into the
truck to go to the test, the examiner called us and told us that a mistake had
been made and that they rescheduled the new test too early, as Vermont has a three-day
waiting period between tests. That meant that Lexie still doesn’t have her
license, which we will have to take care of this summer.
We embarked on our trip to Mexico in early January, and on
the second day on the road, we took a stone to the windshield which caused a
crack. We didn’t want to go into Mexico with that so, as we were driving, we
scheduled a glass repair while we were staying at our AirBnB in New Orleans the
Troubles at the Border
We’ve previously documented our problems in getting into
Mexico because we still hadn’t received our permanent registration from Vermont
– read that blog.
Sidetracked by the Gas Crisis
And, follow our problems in getting the whole way to
Guadalajara due to the gas crisis in Mexico here!
However, even with all of the minor setbacks, we made it to
Mexico and have started our new life — and we certainly have learned how to
handle adversity! And sometimes the setbacks provided unforeseen advantages. Because
of the accident, we have a newer car that is better able to handle rough
Mexican roads. Because of the gas crisis, we discovered a city we never would
have thought to visit, Leon.
We are officially launching the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel. Please visit, subscribe, and follow us on our adventures in Mexico and beyond! Because life is short and the world is big. #messysuitcase #lifeisshorttheworldisbig
Subscribe to our blog: https://messysuitcase.blogspot.com/
(Even though we have moved on to Guanajuato, we still have a few blogs from our life in Tlaquepaque to post. Enjoy!)
We have two saxophones here in Mexico. Because I routinely
play an alto, I keep it on a stand. Unfortunately, one night the nocturnal cat
activities got a little too rambunctious and they knocked my sax onto the hard
tile floor. My sax had some damage and needed to go into the repair shop.
Lex plays the bari sax, and one day one of her keys no
longer functioned properly. It needed to go into the shop, too.
Back in Colorado, we knew of several good shops. In
Guadalajara, we didn’t know of any. Mr. Google provided several potential
musical instrument repair shops. Then we had to use WhatsApp, in Spanish, to
find out whether they repaired saxophones. Fortunately, Mr. Google provided a
picture of the front of one shop, Taller (Workshop) Rodriguez e Hijos, which had
a sign which said they repaired saxophones. They became the de facto winner.
The sign says: Repair of All Types of Woodwind instruments, including Clarinets, Trumpets, trombones and Saxophones, Gold-Plated, Nickel, Chrome
Visiting Rodriguez e Hijos
Lex and I Ubered to the shop on a Monday afternoon. No
Spanish spoken there, but we managed to convey what we needed. The sax expert
came out and gave our saxophones a thorough examination. Then, in very rapid
Spanish, he explained to us what he needed to do. Neither Lex or I understood a
word he said, we just nodded in agreement. He did point out four areas that my
sax needed work on. When we asked him when they would be ready, he told us three
I also asked how much he thought it would cost and he told
us that he wouldn’t know until he did his work. I left with a little concern,
since we gave both saxophones to someone we didn’t know and with no idea what
it would cost us to get them back.
Bob’s happy saxophone
Lexie’s rejuvenated bari sax
Lex and I returned on Thursday, and as promised the
saxophones were ready. I took mine out and played a few notes. It sounded good.
Then Came the Bill
I then asked the question I was almost afraid to ask – how
much was the bill? To my astonishment, the bill was $450MXN, or less than
$25USD. I gave him the money and we were off.
I don’t know exactly what was done, but I can guarantee you
that the work would have cost us at least $150 USD back in Lakewood, and
certainly wouldn’t have been done in 3 days.
But both saxophones were fixed and now sound the way they
“Life is Short, the World is Big” is our philosophy, our passion, our lifestyle, our motivation, our inspiration.
But as a blog title, it was just TOO LONG!
So we are in the process of changing the name of the blog to Messy Suitcase! After all, we are living out of a few suitcases stuffed into the back of our truck (along with three musical instruments, three cats and our youngest child, Lex, who is on a gap year from college). OK, we let the cats and Lex sit in the back seat, but you get the point!
Every few months, we pack up those suitcases — often with “help” from the cats — and head for our next destination, where we again live out of messy suitcases!