Classroom Turned Cafe’

Hey there, It’s been a very long while since Sunshine with Waves popped into your mailbox. I’m happy to be back thanks to the gentle nudge from a dear friend to get writing. This article is really focused on my life as an educator and something happening in my “former classroom” at school. So, if education-related content isn’t for you, feel free to move on. If you choose to read, I hope you’ll be glad you did. Maybe you’ll have some ideas for Wonder World Cafe’. If so, please comment below. With that… thanks for reading.

To understand the inspiration for a classroom Turned Cafe’ I will first give you some background. Travel is my joy and sometimes one of the few thoughts that propels me to a difficult day’s finish line. Travel restores my soul. Reminiscing about it helps, too. I don’t need the research, but maybe you do. Study upon study shows simply recalling happy memories brings about positivity and is a stress-coping strategy while planning for future events serves a similar purpose. Recalling travel and planning for it is restorative.

Wandering through the city centre. Taking photos of monuments. Feeding my postcard addiction. Collecting stories. Feeling awed with the breathtaking landscape. Soaking it up because the photos can’t possibly do a place and space justice; I take them anyway. Getting lost, intentionally. Dedicating time to learning about the local history-especially the people. Maneuvering places via public transportation (getting lost, unintentionally). Engaging in a conversation with locals and other wanderers. I love and long for almost every part of traveling. Near the top of my ‘to love’ list always includes a vanilla latte at local cafes. 

It’s true, coffee is the star of my (every) morning. Each cafe’ I visit, whether in my hometown in California’s Central Valley or heading east to Washington. D.C., to crossing the Atlantic to Scotland, even further to a souk in Cairo, Egypt, and south from there to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Each cafe’ has its own soul. Some quirky. Some whimsical. Others famous. “A hole in the wall’ and anything in-between. A haven in a storm. A respite for overworked feet. To quench my thirst or satiate the need for a caffeine boost. Bonus points earned if my vanilla latte is served in a lovely ceramic cup topped with foam art (a heart, please or even a leaf will do). Oh, a saucer is a must. Disposable cups are almost a dealbreaker. 

Even if you don’t drink coffee; have tea. Don’t drink either, still, cafes are a hub for culture and not a place to skip while on holiday. Some of my favorites have books for borrow, magazines, or newspapers and maybe an entire book store, event announcements (how else would I have signed up for Dublin’s Literary Pub Crawl while on the Emerald Isle?), and local artisans’ creations. The atmosphere changes from place to place, and surely I see people popping in on their way to work, others engaged in a business meeting with laptops open and creative minds collaborating, others relaxing solo, or deep in conversation with friends. 

Of the many interesting cafe’ elements, I tune into seating arrangements. Some configurations encourage a cozy, long chat with friends, others offer nooks where people can stay awhile and work away from home. Many writers have penned bestsellers at their local cafe.’ Some offer over-stuffed sofas and barstools, and some are a grab-and-go with no seating whatsoever. It’s tough to not find some joy in a cafe. 

My love of visiting cafes around the world and my educator eye kept circling back to this question: How can I create the cafe’ vibe in my classroom space? In small ways, I went for it. This is an ongoing endeavor, and like most projects, it will continue to evolve in ways I have yet to consider. 

To begin, I branded our space as Wonder World Cafe – where learning is always on our menu. We then needed cafe-style seating to include options for learners based on the activity, just like the many cafes I’d visited. This became an engaging class project as we researched options and tried to remain optimistic as the costs of our desires didn’t measure up to our non-existent budget. Reading- cozy chairs. Collaborating with peers- easy-to-move furniture best suited for the number of creative thinkers in the group is helpful. And, sometimes we need more formal seating, classroom style, for direct instruction. Several years ago, I’d written a grant for tall desks with a fidget bar and barstool seating. This was the first step to our cafe’s seating options. Here learners can sit or stand, and push the desks together in a variety of configurations. Next, we needed places that were not desks, so I wrote another grant for some small classroom couches (Lakeshore Learning). Then, I repeated the grant writing process until I had an ample amount of various seating types. I brought in easy-to-wash and maintain pillows for added comfort. A favorite. While I still have more ideas on seating and would like a few items more suitable for 8th graders, I shelved this idea for now; it’s an expensive endeavor. 

The missing piece in Wonder World Cafe’ continued to be beverages. Every cafe’, everywhere has drink options. Logistically, I didn’t have a viable and safe option. I knew I couldn’t serve everyone each day. I’d be able to serve a warm beverage to a few at the start of class, and after that, I couldn’t make it work. Two learners having a warm beverage hardly brings out that cafe’ vibe I’d hoped to achieve. 

This year, I had to try. Eighth graders may already drink coffee or perhaps will discover it on their own later, so hot tea was the best option for us. Somehow encouraging coffee didn’t feel like the best decision. 

Ever so mindful of our environment, disposable items are not an option. I brought a few teacups, saucers, spoons, a sugar bowl I already own- purchased upon my arrival back home from Scotland where a lovely friend taught me to make proper tea in a pot and all. As much as I’d love to use the teapot in our cafe,’ it isn’t feasible. It’s important to me that we have proper cups with saucers. These items are dainty and still prove to be novel for our young tea drinkers. 

Quick lessons

Some students are expert tea drinkers; others have never tried it. We had a few quick lessons. 

  1. How to free the string from the teabag to place it in the teacup
  2. How long to leave the teabag in the cup is a matter of taste
  3. Proper use of a teaspoon and sugarbowl with attention to hygiene and the need for being sanitary 
  4. When finished, place tea bags in the bin, and dishes in the sink
  5. Table etiquette

In the beginning, our tea service was so simple. I bought black tea and sugar. (I wanted sugar cubes, but they are pricey compared to a bag of sugar.) It is a small expense I’m willing to incur. Sharing the addition of tea service in Wonder World Cafe’ with my same dear friend who taught me to make proper tea in a pot, she asked about the type of biscuits I serve. “Biscuits?” I asked.

“You must serve biscuits with tea,” she replied, and even through text messages, I saw her gentle face and heard her lovely accent, so off to the market to purchase biscuits.

In between lessons and especially during our fiercely guarded independent reading time, I become the barista. We have our cafe table placed in front of a large wall of windows. Here is the only place we enjoy tea. It’s close to the counter where I warm the water and the sink. This way I’m not carrying hot water about the cafe’. In all, I get to about six to eight students per class. 

Recently, in my second-period English class, one learner volunteered to be our tea server, so in her class, she’s quite efficient, and more learners enjoy tea served by her. She’s efficient and no, it’s not taking away from her own learning. I appreciate her servant’s heart. 

Our evolving space

When I realized tea service was to be a continuing tradition, I visited yard sales and our local charity shops to purchase inexpensive cups, saucers, and spoons. Jackpot! One yardsale vendor had ten teacups with saucers, eager to help an educator, he sold all to me for under $5. I enjoyed the hunt for cafe’ treasures over several Saturday afternoons, even scoring a large wooden sign that reads: CAFE. 

As our initial supply of black tea bags dwindled, I approached students’ guardians to request individually wrapped tea bags if they had any to spare. Our options grew on a large scale. This is when students who had been reluctant to try a cup of tea decided to try. 

As the desire for a warm cup of tea grew, I added a menu board. Here, interested parties can place their order based on the day’s tea flavors. This added a fun new element. As learners come in, some head straight to the menu board excited to see the flavors of the day. Sometimes they’ll enjoy tea with a friend, and sometimes I place two people together who may not have paried up naturally. 

Not all students place an order. I’ve nudged them. Some just don’t like tea. Some are waiting for hot cocoa (coming in December). Some just are not interested for a variety of reasons. This is quite fine. I often say, “If we all loved the same things in the world, it would be a boring place.” 

Relationship building with learners 

It’s never about the tea, really. Tea became the catalyst for more conversations about school, books they’re reading, and life. When I sense a learner is having a rough day, offering tea is a tangible way to let them know I’m thinking of them. Every so often, a student will ask for biscuits without tea; I take this as code: I’m hungry and am happy to serve only biscuits. Unexpected outcomes are abound in the cafe’. The idea of serving tea coincides with Roald Dahl’s creepy short story, “The Land Lady” where an old woman welcomes an unsuspecting guest into her Bed and Breakfast, showers him with offers of tea, then later, it is implied she’s a killer. As one who doesn’t dress up for Halloween, when I came dressed as The Landlady, the reaction from our learners created a priceless memory for me. It’s a common workplace ritual – arrive at work, pour a warm beverage and get to work. I hope serving tea builds the idea that I trust my learners and recognize their growing teenage desire for independence.

Relationship building with adults

All I had to do was ask. Parents and guardians started sending tea in all types of flavors from Egyptian chamomile, winter spice, salted caramel, mint, and all flavors fruity. 

Many parents and guardians want to be involved in their child’s classroom. By the time they reach 8th grade, I still like to find opportunities for adult involvement even though they are not as ample with older ones. Sending tea supplies to stock our cafe’ is one small, inexpensive way to maintain the involvement many adults still want.

During parent/teacher conferences in November, I created a welcoming environment with the offer of tea to the adult and their child. Just a lovely way to start the meeting and hopefully reduce any tension some may feel about academic progress toward 8th-grade promotion.

Since this, the adults continue to ask what I need to keep the cafe’ going and I always request tea and sugar. The only item I now purchase are biscuits, mostly because I want to keep it very simple. Plain vanilla cookies work great for hot tea. Plus, I want to remember tea etiquette lessons from my dear friend and my love of all things Scottish.

Changing seasons

When autumn arrived, our cafe’ table was made over in all things fall including fall fruits such as pomegranates and persimmons, and for some, they’d seen such items, but couldn’t identify them. (Mini vocab lesson!) I added hot apple cider to our menu. Served with a few marshmallows floating on the top, it was quite popular. December brings hot cocoa, another round of marshmallow toppers, and new table decor. A generous staff member with a true love of our kids sent over a gigantic bag of peppermint sticks for stirring. Maybe the cocoa will allow me to serve our non-tea lovers a warm winter beverage.

Other lessons

Running low on sugar? As 8th-grade is the year to study American History, concern for the dwindling supply of sugar is always a fun opportunity to circle back to the sugar tax (and all the taxes) the King of England imposed on the colonists – a fun way to reinforce how much we love sugar, just like the colonists. Sometimes a learner brings up the Boston Tea Party to which we reminisce about how this rebellion caused the colonists to go without tea or find other means to obtain it. “Would you like that to happen here? To do away with your tea supply?” I inquire. “Noooo,” is always the response. 

A student asked if I’d serve hot cocoa in styrofoam cups. Secretly, they may be hoping for a larger portion than our little teacups can hold. My response turned into a fruitful conversation about being kind to our environment. Styrofoam cups are not kind.

Learners bring items in the spirit of sharing such as a jar of honey from a dad’s workplace. Some bring their favorite tea flavors, knowing it will be a menu option for all to enjoy soon. It’s fun to learn tea preferences. Some are traditionalists always ordering black tea, regardless of the day’s menu options. This sometimes opens up conversations about other likes and dislikes and discussing if they’re traditionalists in other ways, too. Some even have a favorite tea cup. Finally, some days are tough for our young ones. When I want to say something but don’t know what, I can always start with, “May I serve you a cup of tea?”

Day’s end

Yes, I personally wash all the cups, saucers, and spoons. Turning dishwashing into a mindful practice, I enjoy the process and watch the way the bubbles grow, count the cups and reflect on how the amount of cups equals the number of learners whose day was perhaps a little brighter. Some suggest I ask students to wash the dishes. Since I do want to ensure all are properly washed, and I do enjoy the process, for now, I’m glad to do it. It’s the last activity I do before heading home; it’s a way to relax my over-active mind. 

In such a time as we are in, November of 2021, our cafe’ vibe and tea drinking is a small joy in the day. Small joy. I’ll embrace the little things. Who knew when adding tea to Wonder World Cafe’ that the tea would be a bridge to so many relationships, conversations, and small joys? 

It may sound cumbersome and time-consuming. It’s not. I still teach. I still wander around from learner to learner. Learners are patient. Sometimes they remind me or politely ask at the end of a lesson if I can continue with cafe’ service. They have yet to complain if they order and are not served. If possible, I try to get to them the next day. 

The cost

For less than $20, I supplied our cafe’ with tea, sugar, and plenty of cups, saucers, and spoons. Admittedly, I already had the eclectic kettle for heating water. But, later I did splurge on a type where I can set and maintain the desired water temperature. This option feels safer since I can have hot water but not boiling. My peace of mind was worth this cost.


Start small. See if and how it grows. You know your community and if this is worthy of a try. When I started, I really intended it to be one week, a short-term novelty. Too much goodness came from it, so I continue. A deep commitment made to myself stands firm: I will not use our cafe’ as leverage. It’s not a carrot for positive choices or a consequence for poor ones. In fact, sometimes it’s the most loving offer I can provide to a learner who is dealing with a poor choice. I also didn’t start the year by serving tea. We built our cafe’ culture from the first day, and foster it daily. It continues to be a special part of our daily rhythms in Wonder World Cafe – where learning is always on our menu.


Egypt شكرا


“Where are you going this summer?” A typical question asked of me, an educator, starting around February.

“Egypt!!” I respond, excitedly, eyes widening with a big excited smile.

“Ohhh. Is it safe?” Said with concern, and narrowing eyes of the asker.

“I don’t know. Is it safe for me to be anywhere?”

For a decade, I’ve dreamed about Egypt. I’ve seen myself in front of the pyramids, meandering through Valley of the Kings, walking up the platform to Hatshepsut’s temple and being on the Nile River, the giver and taker of life, a place so sacred to the ancient brilliant Egyptians. 

It goes without saying, though I will address it. I had read about the recent history of violence, especially in the 2011 Revolution. Tourism dramatically decreased after that. I read the U.S. government site about tourism and safety. I took all of this into account all the while looking from the outside in, too. What sad events do people in other countries read about that take place in my own country?

I decided it would be best to use a travel company for the first time. This was the best decision, on so many levels. After much research, I discovered Egyptian Educational Travel’s (EET) site and ultimately decided on this company. If you want to know more about how I decided, contact me.

After numerous email conversations with Romani Gaballa, of EET, my friend, Marie, and I boarded a plane bound for Egypt.

I’d spent countless hours scouring travel sites and blogs about Egypt. Information is as varied as people themselves. Recommendations are just that. Here’s my experience and what worked well for me! Keep in mind we were in Egypt when it was hot, about as hot as it is during our California valley summers, so the dry heat wasn’t shocking for me. 

Costs-What to expect

Our travel package included all accommodations, many meals and all transportation. Not included: air travel to and from Egypt, a few meals, mementos, tips, and any extra charges you may choose to incur at some of the sites. Some places require a permit to take pictures inside (such as inside the tombs at Valley of the Kings). This is completely optional, but reasonable and worth it to me. Going inside Tut’s tomb is extra; a non negotiable for me, though many people don’t.

Travel Documents

Passport and Visa required.

Entry into Egypt requires a visa, too. You can obtain the Visa in advance or get it inside the airport. I opted for EET to get it for me. Cost $25 USD. This was so convenient. It’s a little sticker placed inside the passport upon arrival.


I have only my backpack and a carry-on. Pack smart and light for Egypt. As long as I have my passport and credit card, if I forget anything I can usually find it when I arrive.

This is not a complete list. You know about the basics! All of these items carefully packed into a suitcase small enough for the overhead bin on the plane and a backpack for under the seat.

Sunscreen (Some sites recommended bug spray which I took, but didn’t need.) 

Hat – I didn’t see many people in baseball caps. A sun type hat is perfect.

A journal – you won’t possibly remember everything unless you write it down.

Snacks just in case. I usually take small protein bars and almonds.

Shoes – I took four pairs. Many sites recommend closed toe shoes for walking. I was fine in my sandals (with a back strap) except at Valley of the Kings where sandals would have been cumbersome because of all the sand. Flip flops for the hotel. Nicer sandals for cruise dinners.

Bathing suit and coverup

Dinner wear for Nile River Cruise

Light sweater for evenings and mosque visits

Smaller backpack and small purse for sight seeing. Items are subject to security at all sites.

U.S. dollars. I brought more than a hundred. I left most in the hotel safe and carried about 20 each day. This was really convenient, especially for toilet use and small purchases. It was easy to negotiate purchases with US dollars.

Medication. In the original containers according to the travel sites. Nobody asked to see medications in any airport, but I’d be safe on this one.

Let’s talk clothing

Since we were here in the heat, many travel sites recommended wearing 100% cotton, modest attire to be culturally sensitive, and long sleeves to cover up in the mosques. I didn’t go the 100% cotton route since I didn’t want to purchase a new wardrobe. I selected loose fitting clothing, 3/4 or long sleeves, always pants or a long skirt. We did see tourists especially in Cairo definitely not adhering to the cultural sensitivity suggestions. I don’t recommend this.

We also did some hand washing of under garments. Laundry service is available in the hotels, but we were not there long enough. On the Nile River Cruise, we had a few items laundered and ironed to be ready for onboard evenings which calls for evening wear (not formal).

Marie purchased an entire new wardrobe at thrift stores for around $60 prior to departure. She knew she’d leave these clothes behind which made room in her suitcase for our purchases. Smart!

Cell phones

Our cell phones worked fine! Contact your cell company to find the international plan that works best for you. I have AT&T. I spent $60 on a plan that had a small amount of data, and unlimited data when using wi-fi in hotels and such. Some travel sites suggest buying a SIM card upon arrival. This wasn’t necessary for me.

Cell phone usage is different on the Nile River Cruise, just as it is when on any cruise. You can purchase a data package for the boat. I opted out. I only want to check in at home with my loved ones and post a few travel pics anyway.


No direct flights from San Francisco. It will take a day of travel to get to Cairo. Don’t let this be a show stopper.

Arrival in Cairo Airport

Arriving here after nearly 24 hours of travel was exciting! Mohammed was at the gate for us with our Visa stickers to promptly place on a blank passport page. Getting out of the airport was easy and quick since we had no luggage to retrieve. Mohammed was our driver for much of the trip. Though he spoke little English, he was delightful, and it’s when I meet people like this, I’m reminded we don’t need to speak the same language to communicate. A smile is a beautiful gift.

Mohammed took us to the van where Ayman, one of our guides, met us. Mohammed drove and Ayman welcomed us and gave a quick overview of what to expect, while on our way to our hotel. Our hotel was lovely and offered our first glimpse of the Pyramids from our room!


Population 22 million. We began and ended our holiday in Cairo. It’s busy. Buildings are tall. Traffic. Horns honking. People stay up late! I had read somewhere, “If you love Cairo, Cairo will love you back.” This is a place where you can see a motorcycle, a car, a tut tut, a bus, a mule drawn cart carrying an abundance of watermelons, and horses all using the same roadways. Crossing the street is an experience in itself. Yes, there is trash and roaming dogs. The city is attempting solutions. In our short time here, we can’t fix it. If you love Cairo, it’ll love you back…Be fascinated, not frustrated. Romani helped up navigate this city, perfectly. Be sure you get lessons on how to cross the street. After a day or so, we went out alone and crossed streets, Egyptian style, no crosswalks and pedestrians do not have the right of way. 

The Money

The currency is Egyptian pounds. I made a little conversation guide for myself (Egyptian Pounds to USD), and I also have a currency conversion app on my phone.

U.S. Dollars were accepted almost everywhere. I entered Egypt with a few hundred U.S. Dollars and more than one hundred one dollar bills for tipping. There are ATM machines available – not everywhere, but they are available. Most ATM machines accepted my card. As I became more confident in the money conversion, I realized it was beneficial to pay in pounds. Many places accepted my credit card.

The Tipping Culture

Egypt has a “tipping culture.” Americans call it tipping. In Egypt, expect to hear “appreciate” as in “appreciate your driver ” vs. “tip your driver.” I’d read about it. It’s true, even using a public bathroom at the airport or a museum will “require” an appreciation. This is why I came with so many $1 bills. Let me be clear. Every bathroom/restroom/toilet/ WC (whatever you call it) was always clean. The attendant will hand you toilet paper as you enter and will most likely walk into the stall, wipe the seat (again) to be sure it’s clean. When you’re finished and wash your hands, the attendant will give you more toilet paper (to dry your hands). We did think this was unusual, but common. I gave $1 USD to the attendant each time I used the facilities.

I did find it interesting to read the complaints out there about bathroom tipping! My thoughts are I’ve invested thousands of dollars into this experience, and I can’t possibly complain about the petty cash I spent on clean facilities not to mention helping somebody earn a living (meager as it is). This is not worth complaining about. 

Other tipping guidelines:

Tour guides = $10 USD per day

Drivers = $5 USD per day

The “bartering”

Purchasing items at the tourist sites or on the streets is comparable to places such as Mexico, Jamaica, or any other place where you’ve had to come to an agreement with the seller. It’s like that in some areas in Egypt. You can ignore the sellers or give it a try. In fact, you should engage at least a little just for the experience. It’s “easy” for us to offer opinions and judgement about this system, but remember… fascination not frustration or just avoid it altogether.


There was never a moment when we felt unsafe. Not. one. moment. ever. In fact, continue reading. I purchased a sling-back backpack full of safety features. RFID and safety closures. It was convenient for carrying items, but all of the safety features really weren’t needed. Since we had Mohamed, our driver, who stayed in the van, usually we left most of our belongings and I carried only a small crossbody bag. 

We were on our own a few times, even during these times, we wandered through the cities feeling safe and comfortable. 

We did have routine safety checkpoints when traveling by car out of Cairo. We stopped, the guards asked our driver a few questions in Arabic, our driver responded in Arabic, and the only part we understood was the word Americans. Then off we went.

Twice during the trip, we used Egypt Air, once to fly to Aswan (about an hour trip) and once to fly back to Cairo (about an hour). Airport security is alive and well here. Expect it! Appreciate it! Keep your passport handy. We needed it in every hotel to check in. You may need it from the time you enter the airport until the time you board. Just like at home, the liquids rule applies, even flying within Egypt my water bottle half-full water bottle was politely confiscated.

The Welcome

People welcomed us every place we went. “Welcome to Alaska” was a common phrase many of the street vendors used. We appreciated their humor, especially given the heat! Egyptians thanked us for visiting. They asked us to return again. They smiled, a universal language, and many speak English. Many of the places we visited for shopping offered a welcome drink, usually hibiscus tea, refreshing on a warm day. After a purchase it was common to receive a thank you gift. I love these traditions.


Egyptians didn’t seem to be early risers. Breakfast was always available at our hotels or on the boat. Lunch is around 2pm-4pm. Dinner is 8pm or later. (This is why I pack snacks.) We had breakfast in the hotels. A wide variety of food options available. Lunch and dinner was with our guide – always delicious, usually grilled meats and vegetables served with pita bread and sauces for dipping. Egyptians don’t usually drink alcohol in public. (Different on the cruise.) Mint lemonade is delicious and refreshing. Water was always bottled.

Make sure to carry bottled water with you while you’re out touring. It’s available for purchase everywhere! 

Sites and Experiences

It’s impossible to see it all!! Romani and his company put together the suggested itinerary. I reviewed it, asked questions, added on Abu Simbel (at Romani’s suggestion). Some sites were optional meaning we could have said we’d rather go back to the hotel. We never opted out!

Some of the sites

The Nile River Cruise

The Pyramids

Old Cairo – mosques

Abu Simbel


Sound and Light Show

Temples: Luxor, Ramses, Philae, Kom Ombo, Karnack, Horus

Felucca ride

Egyptian Museum

The Unfinished Obelisk

Valley of the Kings

Valley of the Queens

Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple – Al-Deir Al-Bahari

Former site of Alexandria Lighthouse – One of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World

Library at Alexandria

Roman Catacombs

Roman Amphittheatre

Alexandria’s Harbor

Family Owned Alabaster Factory

Ancient Coptic Monasteries-Where thousands of Christians escaped Roman persecution in the 4th century

Cave Church of St. Simon – Seats 20,000 people!

Boat ride on Lake Nasser

The Nile River Cruise

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served. We did have wine a couple of times. If you’ve been on a cruise before, the food is similar. Lots of buffet style meals. Our boat, The Moon Goddess, was beautiful. Remember this is a river cruise, not the Royal Caribbean, so it’s much smaller, still elegant. And, you’re on the Nile River!! Dress for dinner – not formal wear necessarily. I wore summer dresses always with sleeves or a scarf to stay covered. We had excursions each day of the cruise, included in the price already. We had the same guide, Robert, for all of the excursions who had tickets, transportation, and tons of knowledge. Leave after breakfast, return to have lunch, then more sight seeing after lunch. Return in late afternoon with time to enjoy the pool and top deck, take a nap and relax before dinner. You can opt out of any of the morning or afternoon excursions. We didn’t. I did enjoy a massage one afternoon.

What I bought

I love to return home with a few special mementos. You don’t have to buy a single item! If you enjoy a little shopping, you may be interested. If not, you can skip these places!  Mostly, though the best remembrance as the memories and stories, not the “things” purchased.

Essential oils. Kind of like wine tasting, we visited two places to learn about and “taste” essential oils. It was insightful and enjoyable. One place sold only large bottles which cost around $100 USD and another places sold small bottles so we could bring home an assortment. I enjoyed giving these as gifts when I returned.

Cotton. You’ve heard of Egyptian cotton. We visited a cotton factory where I bought some beautiful pieces: a scarf, a dress, and a shirt.

Papyrus. We visited a papyrus factory and learned about the ancient method of early “paper” making. I bought a few paintings which were conveniently rolled for easy packing.

Vase. A group of people handmade alabaster vases, and I was impressed with the process and quality.

Jewelry. Having your name on a cartouche is a special memory. I returned with a bracelet and necklace for myself and my love. Silver and gold are options. I went with silver.

Medical talk

I did contact my doctor prior to departure. I took him up on the suggested vaccinations.  He also gave me some antibiotics to carry, just in case. I never needed them.

If you research travel to Egypt, you will likely find reference to Egyptian tummy bug or The Pharaoh’s Revenge. In Mexico, it’s referred to as Montezuma’s revenge. Recommendations to eat cooked foods, no ice cubes and no salad were pretty easy most of the time. I was fine, other than a bit of an upset stomach on one day. Pack Imodium or something similar just in case.

Packing to return

Usually I check my luggage on the return trip home. It’s heavier now with my treasures, and I’m less concerned with being expeditious in the airport. By now, I’ve likely thrown out or left behind a few clothing items that I don’t care to bring home.

Returning home…

Expect to return with experiences so rich you can’t describe them to a person who hasn’t visited this land. History swirling in your head. Hearing the call to prayer throughout the day and night, seeing people farming the land – mostly with basic tools, maneuvering boats on the Nile, the beautiful mosques, scents of spices, friendly  people… 

It was Ramadan, one of the most important dates on the Islamic calendar and marks the holiest month of the year, while we were here, so the Muslims fast during the daylight hours. We made the mistake of offering one of our drivers candy; he politely declined. Sometimes restaurants were not serving food at our “usual” dinner hour.  As we were preparing to leave, the people were preparing  their cities for Eid al Fitr, the holiday to mark the end of Ramadan. I wish we could have stayed for the festivities.

My biggest and most crucial tips.

#1 You are visiting another country. This is Egyptian culture, not mine. It’s not my place to judge, try to fix what I “think” needs “fixing.”

#2 Fascination not frustration.

Other: This wasn’t a holiday for sleeping in and relaxing by the pool. Though we were tempted as the hotels were stayed in had beautiful pool areas. I did spend time relaxing by the pool on the Nile River cruise!

Of course you should be vigilant when in Egypt as when traveling anywhere. This should go unsaid. Be aware of your surroundings. Be careful.

Travel is much about your mindset and expectations. I expected to be mesmerized with the enormity, age, and history. I expected to be speechless. I expected to be overcome with emotion at the base of the pyramids. I expected tears when we said our final goodbye to Romani. I expect to return.


King Amenhotep III and his wife, Queen Tiye





IMG_8173 2

Rest stop in the Sahara Desert – On our way to a Nubian Village and Abu Simbel



Eskaleh Nubia Ecolodge



Our room – mosquito nets and all (we didn’t need them)

Of course I had to play with the mosquito net!

Lake Nasser with a lovely Nubian man – this is perhaps my most precious photo from this holiday


Abu Simbel, UNESCO World Heritage, Southern Egypt near the border of Sudan.  Site Built by Ramses, 1200s B.C.  We were here at sunrise, 5 A.M. The word magical should be reserved to only describe this location on Earth.





The Moonlight Sonesta, our Nile River Cruise begins in Aswan

I’m so happy to be on the Nile River. I can’t even believe it!


Felucca Ride

Sunrise from our balcony-the Nile River-photo absolutely untouched!













Egypt, until I see you again…

The case of the returning book

Our Little Free Library is a happy small place, where neighbors share books. Books come and go. Some books stay a while, others not even an hour. Some books come back, and most don’t. The variety is ever-changing.

As keeper of the books lately I’ve noticed one particular book coming back to our library often; this is quite unusual, and a bit of a mystery.  Perhaps I noted the activity of this book because numerous people have recommended it, a New York Times Best seller, to me, and I’ve always politely refused because I don’t read sad animal stories. No, I do not! I just can’t.

Today while curating books in our library, a gentleman parked his white truck, left the engine running, and walked over quickly with just one book to drop off. It’s the book. The one that continues to show up again and again. Dave, a neighbor, who I met just today for the first time, explained, “It’s one of my favorite books. The ending is fabulous, and worth rereading.”

After introducing ourselves, I learned Dave loves this book so much that he orders it frequently from Amazon and continues to place a copy in our library –  because he wants everybody to read it. Mystery solved. It’s not the same book that comes back. It’s Dave, buying the book, over and over again, to give more people the opportunity to love it as he does.

I gave up my staunch opposition to reading a sad animal story. I took it from Dave. I will read it. If he loves it enough to continuously order copies from Amazon to place in our Little Library to share with others, how can I not?

Dave’s book recommendation is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Have you read it? If so, let me know, but please don’t give away the ending.


If you need a copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain, give me a few days. I will put it back in our little library when I’m finished. Then, let’s talk about the ending!



Life doesn’t stop for a marathon

Love it. Hate it. Wonder why people do it. Can’t wait to lace up your Sauconys, Nikes, Adidas, Hokas, or New Balance? Wish you could. Ask why people get up early for it AND pay for it. Excited for a long Saturday run. Who would give up sleeping into run?
The mere word, running,  may evoke one or more of the above mentioned thoughts or questions.
My 8th marathon season as a coach is complete. Each season, it it my privilege to spend six months with runners who want to cross a marathon finish line. While it may seem like six months of running, it’s really about the powerful human spirit, camaraderie, and living a good and always busy life.
Life doesn’t stop for a marathon. In the midst of managing training runs, some “just ten miles” and others “oh my gosh, twenty miles” our team is living life with:

full-time careers, work commutes, baby watches and new grandchildren, caring for elderly family members, the household: laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, kids’ school events: soccer, basketball, football, volleyball, band, drama performances, Thanksgiving and Christmas, flu season, injuries, other hobbies, and all the other unknowns!

Yet, our runners show up for months to train, and somehow manage to juggle all of family and work commitments so they can put in the miles. “Short runs” become double digits, all the way up to 20 miles. Then, suddenly a ten mile run earns the rightful “just” in front making it “just ten miles” and on these days, we can get home a little sooner and tend to all the tasks that don’t stop for a marathon season.
It’s never only about the running. Yes, the training calendar brings us together, at first. Later, it’s sharing our lives that becomes the bond and keeps all of us returning – to run yet again in the park, same scenery, but a new week and new parts of our lives to share.
Amazed, I’m always in awe of our running friends’ perseverance and willingness to rearrange their lives to fit in all the miles required to successful and trained for race day.
I’m “the coach” and yet I am the one who learns much, much more about living, juggling, balance, commitment, support and being the best that we all can be. With gratitude, I get to be the one being coached, too!
Cheers to our Geese, your life didn’t stop for a marathon. You did it and are still doing it. Here’s to many more.
Slainte! Susan

Gifts just because…

Just because….

you mean the world to me

it has your name written all over it

I’m so thrilled I found something I KNOW you’ll love

you support me

I love you

you’d never get it for yourself

it made me think of you

You know what it’s like to find the perfect gift for somebody? Filled with excitement, you just can’t wait to give it! You may give it early, just because you cannot wait one more day. You also know that if you’re looking for the perfect gift, you’ll never find it right when you need it. Furthermore, you know that trying to find the perfect gift at the perfect time can lead to disappointment. You sometimes settle just so you’ll have something, anything to put in that gift bag. Buying the gift bag – that’s the easiest part.

A number of years ago, several of my friends (and a few family members) made a loving pact: No gift giving on birthdays. Difficult for some, nevertheless we all agreed. But, you know what? It’s a relief not to do the frenzied walk up and down aisles or a wild, late night internet search with a deadline looming.  Side note: Those late nights on the internet lead to midnight snacking, and for me, that means devouring an excess amount of chocolate laced with peanut butter.

I’d never suggest we stop giving gifts. To remove the joy we feel when giving isn’t the point! How about giving up the pressure for a specific gift giving event and give “just because” gifts?

IMG_3900Here are a few just because gifts I’ve received that continue to brighten my day!

Let us also remember many “gifts” aren’t tangible. Thinking of you texts or even better a phone call, spending unhurried time together, a handwritten letter, assuming a friend’s recess duty (teachers you know this one!) all qualify as some of the most kind and thoughtful gifts.

I’m not sure how this will work in your world with your friends and family and for what types of events you’re willing to forgo traditional gift giving, but just thought I’d throw the idea out there.

Slainte! Susan

Just wondering…1) Do you give just because gifts? 2) What are some intangible gifts you enjoy giving?

Something new I’m loving… Touchnote post cards. Download the app. All via your phone, send a postcard with any picture you’ve taken, include a message and your recipient’s address. Addresses are saved for later use. Done. While it’s not handwritten, it’s super simple to send and oh-so fun to receive. Cost is $2 per postcard (when you put $10 on an account).  The final product is high quality and arrives to your recipient in about 5 days. Check it out here!!

Gardenias and a Birthday


Just a couple of years back, I started my own little personal tradition…to celebrate my folks on my birthday. After all, without them I would not celebrate any of these days, which by the way seem to come around at an alarming rate. Today, I’m remembering my mom with gardenias.

Raised in a modest three bedroom home, there was Mom, Dad, my older often bratty brother, and me. ONE bathroom. There was just one simple bathroom rule: When Dad needs in, you get out. The price of the home was under ten grand, and the mortgage was $99. At the time, even that felt like a stretch for my folks. Hard for us to imagine in today’s world! In our simple, not-too large, yard, there were several gardenia bushes. And each year when the white, fragrant blooms arrived, people would stop to ask my mother for her gardenia growing secrets.  “No secrets,” Mom would say as people shared sad tales of gardenia growing failures.

As an adult, in my own yard, there is one gardenia bush. It came with the house, and blooms for just a bit each summer. Certainly it’s not overflowing like the ones in my childhood home. I’ve even Googled “how to help gardenias thrive,” none of ideas have given great gardenia success, and I am 100% certain my mom didn’t add any organic matter to hers. Nor did she maintain airflow, measure the acidity of the soil, or add sulphur to help the PH level.

This year, my own plant produced enough to make a small bouquet, which I delivered to my mom and dad in their final resting place. It’s so clear to me that my mom is smiling at me as I attempt to help my gardenias thrive while she do so effortlessly.

Today, in my personal tradition, I celebrate, with gardenias, my mom and dad.

Slainte! Susan

P.S. As I just now glanced outside at my now bare gardenia plant, I notice a butterfly landing right at the top. A message from Mom!

Scotland: Words fail, again

I find joy in words. Attempts to pull up the most precise word to describe a situation, engages my brain. You know, famished rather than hungry-which, it seems, is often the case for me, sigh.  I find entertainment watching new words join the dictionary (conlang, an invented language, and face-palm, to cover one’s face with the hand when embarrassed) to name a few.  (Click here for more newly added words.)  2015 was a surprise when the Oxford Dictionary publishers announced the word of the year wasn’t a word at all, it was the tears of joy emoji.  I didn’t have a word to describe how I felt about this announcement. Maybe I didn’t need a word to describe the word of the year since it wasn’t a word at all, or whatever!  Words fail me, time and time again.

Again, lack of a precise word or words was glaring on a holiday in Scotland. How do you describe such a XYZ country? Replace XYZ with any synonym for beautiful.  Here, I’ll help: glorious, breath-taking, awesome, magical, majestic, moody, inviting, pleasant, green, pink, blue…The list continues, but there isn’t a way to wrap it up with one exact word. Karen, my dear friend and travel-mate on this trip decided to describe Scotland in colors.


When I reflected back on Scotland’s colors, I kept seeing colored-pencils representing the prominent landscape features.

Here’s our color-attempt-

Green: hills, mountains, grass, meadows, numerous shades, everywhere

Yellow: the sun would often highlight one specific area where we were to focus

Gray: rocks, granite, mountains everywhere. Scotland has ancient volcanoes!

Pink: wildflowers galore

Blue: lochs, ocean, firths, rivers, and sometimes water shooting out from the side of a hill and of course, the sky

White: enormous billowy clouds and sheep who wander the one-lane roads

In reality…


“Non-pictures” became my invented word for the hundreds of pictures I took. These pictures simply don’t do justice to the landscape. So, non-pictures. Not one captures the gloriousness, magic, majesty, or moodiness.

Research by nature writer Robert Macfarlane sadly discovered the Oxford Junior Dictionary publishers removed words no longer pertinent to our kids. Farewell to words such as dandelion, fern, acorn, ash, mistletoe, willow, ivy, lark, and pasture.  Not wanting holes in the dictionary – chatroom, cut-and-paste, and a few other tech related words were welcomed in.  No! We can’t remove nature related words. There already aren’t a sufficient amount for us to pull from.

For now, I’ve captures the images in my mind’s eye and of course in my heart! If you’re looking for an XYZ  (insert any word for beautiful here) destination, perhaps you hear Scotland calling.

Slainte! Susan

P.S. If you know me, you know of my love for Ireland which has not been diminished by a Scottish holiday. Wherever Scotland is written here, I can most certainly insert Ireland. In fairness, Sunshinewithwaves was born well after I left a big piece of my heart in Ireland.

To ponder…What are some places you have in your mind’s eye that can’t be captured on film (okay, your iPhone) or with our language?


Little Library Open for Business


Creations take time, energy, and resources. Our neighborhood has all of that and more! Many creative minds and hands were involved. Alas, our Little Free Library is open. This project embodies the true spirit of a neighborhood. Many neighbors* stepped up to share their expertise and talents: two builders, one artist, one steel company, one powder coating company, one installer, and tons of supporters. Step-by-step and with no Little Library experience, we made it happen.

I will share La Loma’s Little Library happenings with you along the way!  A few thoughts since we’ve opened: I’ve met so many neighbors. I mean, actually talked with people, not just the neighborly, obligatory, wave. I know their names. I know their dogs’ names, too. Kids books go quickly. One day I met a three year old girl and her grandfather sitting on the curb, reading. My heart was full. Seeing books come and go is gratifying. Books I predict will be gone quickly, don’t move, and vice versa.  I am more connected to my neighbors who are committed to making positive changes in our neighborhood and community. I now belong to “Little Free Library Stewards” and have received welcomes from across the United States and Canada. What an encouraging group of “librarians” out there supporting each other.

Our library brings me back to the love of reading my mom fostered when I was growing up. Trips to the library and occasionally the book store are warm memories. I know she’s smiling down. And, if she were here, I can only imagine she’d find a way to shower our Little Library with books often.

Some of the stats show adults don’t read much, whether in print or electronically. Me, I can’t imagine a life without reading. So, from this day forward, instead of asking people the same ol’, same ol’ “How are you?” I want to ask, “What are you reading?”

Come on by! Take a book! Leave a book!



*Shout out to the Little Free Library team: Ceres Metal and Pipe (Doug Highiet), ColorCoat Powder Coating (Norman Van Spronsen), Lola Bell Art Studios (artist Bill Russell), John Frailing and Billie (builders), Ross Redding (installer), Deborah Steinberg (La Loma Neighborhood Association president), the Murphy Family (book donation box creators), and so many others.

Lessons from Ducks

What a joy to be back on a college campus. What a privilege to watch a bright and beautiful young lady graduate, with honors from University of Oregon. I may be a bit partial since Taylor and I both have an undergraduate degree in psychology.



There were two ceremonies; all graduates in one humongous stadium in the morning and a more intimate one for specific majors in the evening. As I listened to all the speakers-graduates, keynotes, deans, and the president, two sentiments reoccured.

Two ideas that apply to all of us, not only recent graduates:

  • A tremendous sense of pride
  • Failure leads to greater and deeper learning

Pride: These students have such pride for their university. Every student speaker talked warmly about what it means to be a Duck. Once a Duck always a Duck. Over and over, students and family put their hands together to make the famous capital “O” (see Taylor above). The sense of collegiality made an impression on me. And, I wondered how this sense of “we are all in this together,” could be transferred to the communities where we live, the schools our younger children attend, and the places we work. It’s out there, yes, though I’ve never seen pride run so deep in so many people.

Failure: From graduates to the University of Oregon president, the message of failure and how it’s part of the growing process was mentioned enough times for me to still be thinking about it a week later.  How many times have I (or you) avoided a risk because it might not be a success? I am inspired that these Ducks learned a valuable lesson, outside of a textbook!

JK Rowling was quoted, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you lives so cautiously that you might as well not lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

I don’t have all the answers for creating an amazing sense of camaraderie in my neighborhood, at my job, or even in my classroom. I do have a longing to try.  As for failure, I know I can learn a thing or two from JK Rowling. How about you?

Congrats to all 2016 graduates. The world is already better by having you in it.








Sunshine in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park, in all its splendor, is 83 miles from my front door, and yet I just experienced it for the first time. 

Yosemite 2


I’ve been to Yosemite on one other occasion, to eat lunch. It’s 90 minutes from home, a mere 83 miles, and I’ve not experienced Yosemite until now. I’ve already berated myself for letting this happen. I’ve forgiven myself, and now, moving on.

A week ago, an unlikely group of hikers, in the range of 11 years old to the very young at heart, joined Jerel, our personal tour guide, for an expertly guided hike through this majestic place. Born in Wisconsin, and inspired by a National Geographic article he read as a lad, Jerel volunteers here for a month at a time.  The idea of this trip was born during a run where we were passing the long training mileage with a myriad of topics. Jerel shared his Yosemite experiences with us, and soon a trip was planned.

Yosemite 1


I need to go through the “tour” again to remember all the details Jerel shared! This year, the welcomed wet season allows the falls to create a spectacular show!

While hiking, I had several reoccurring thoughts.

  1. How come I have not experienced this before?
  2. The many falls are so powerful.
  3. Pictures? No way will they show the grandeur.
  4. The word awesome is overused. We use awesome to describe meals, days, books, cars, shoes, and the like. So, what word do we use when something is truly awesome, awe-inspiring, like powerful waterfalls and sunshine that creates multiple rainbows on the water?

I’m guilty of not making time to visit “awesome” places right here in California, all within a day’s drive. Working on this…

Visit Yosemite now! The falls are magnificent. Peak run-off is May and June, and the National Parks are celebrating their 100th birthday.  See more about Yosemite and the National Parks birthday here.

Have an awesome(!) day.

Slainte! Susan