Hidden in Plain Sight at the Gum Wall in Seattle

Any tourist trip to Seattle isn’t complete without a visit to Pike’s Place Market, a few blocks east of the famous Elliott Bay waterfront.  Hidden on the lower level of the Market on Post Alley is a quirky tourist attraction called the Market Theater Gum Wall.  It’s been in the news this week because for the first time in 20 years, the wall underwent a steam cleaning and removal of the estimated 1 million wads of used chewing gum.

Gum Wall

A small portion of the gum wall, measuring 50 feet long and up to 15 feet high.

In 2009 this gum wall was named one of the top five unhygienic sites in the world, second to the Blarney Stone in Ireland.   Another little known fact is that a similar and older gum wall, Bubblegum Alley, exists in San Luis Obispo, California.

But don’t worry!  When the maintenance is complete, tourists and passersby can once again leave their sticky legacy on the city.

Hidden in Plain Sight

What you probably haven’t heard about is the secret treasure known as a geocache that was hidden in plain sight on the gum wall.

But what is a geocache?

Geocaching is a treasure hunt that uses GPS-enabled devices to track the specific GPS coordinates of hidden containers, or geocaches, throughout the world.  Presently, there are 2,744,212 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.

The geocache at the gum wall, named “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble,” was a very popular hunt for geocachers.  The online record for this geocache indicates that over 2,800 geocachers logged a visit at this cache since it was hidden in 2010.  Of that number over 25% of the geocachers could not find the cache.  I was one of those, logging the dreaded frown smiley face or DNF (Did Not Find) on my geocaching record.

Where is the geocache?

Can you spot the geocache at this Seattle landmark?

Although I hate to log a ‘DNF’ during my geocaching adventures, this day still holds pleasant memories for me.  It was thanks to Pedro, our host son from Spain, that I decided to search for this geocache.  As a long-time Seattle area resident, I didn’t even know about the gum wall until we started geocaching in 2010.

On the Hunt for Hidden Treasure

The first year Pedro was in our home, one of the student field trips was to Pike’s Place Market and the gum wall.  Days earlier Pedro went out on his first geocaching adventure with my family.  He was hooked.  Unfortunately we didn’t find out about the geocache at the gum wall until after the field trip.

Pedro at the gum wall, July 2010.

Pedro leaves his gum legacy at this famous Seattle landmark, unaware of the hidden treasure camouflaged on the wall.

When Pedro returned to Seattle the next summer, he was eager to find lots of geocaches, and to surpass my husband’s count of geocaches.  It was a good-natured competition to see who had the most caches by the end of his visit.  Pedro made a gallant try but couldn’t catch up.  He found over 50 caches in four weeks scattered throughout Washington and Oregon.

Back to the day of this hunt…

The day was memorable because it was the day that I took Pedro to The Piano Studio for his recording rehearsal.  We met Martin Buff, the studio owner, and Pedro spent some time getting his fingers used to the 9-foot Steinway Grand Piano.  His actual recording date was a few days later.  What a priceless memory watching this young man’s dreams come true.  Pedro has since gone on to compose music for short and full-feature films like Tempting Fate.

Pedro practicing at The Piano Studio in Seattle.

Pedro practicing at The Piano Studio in Seattle, June 2011.

After a short rehearsal, we headed into downtown Seattle to geocache.  We found a few geocaches along the waterfront and then went to Pike’s Place Market.  Our goal: to find, or to log a smiley (that’s geocaching lingo) at “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble.”

We were surprised when we arrived at Post Alley and found a photography class set up taking photographs of the wheat paste art on the walls opposite the gum wall.  We walked past the students and tried to use our geocaching stealth and ‘geosense’ to search for the hidden cache on the gum wall.

Hints are provided on the online listing for this geocache, but sadly it didn’t help us spot the camouflaged container that measured about an inch in diameter.   GPS coordinates are fairly accurate most of the time, but with that small of a container and the large brick wall covered with gum, it felt like an impossible task.  Besides, even with gloves on, we really didn’t want to search that closely!

We ended our memorable day with dinner at the waterfront, watching the ferries on Elliott Bay, and planning our next adventure—recording Pedro’s first CD at The Piano Studio.

Photography students near the gum wall.

Photography students near the gum wall.

Restoration of the Hidden Landmark

So what’s next for “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble?”  The geocache listing has temporarily been disabled.  The owner of the cache reported that a physical cache container will be replaced after the wall is cleaned and re-gummification begins.

Since I didn’t find the geocache before, I think this gum wall cleaning is good news for me.  The sooner I return on the hunt for this geocache, the better my odds of finding it.  And then I can turn my DNF to an “I FOUND IT” smiley.  🙂

For more information or to get started on your own geocaching adventures, visit geocaching.com.

Not your Typical Exchange Student Experience

This week marks the 5th anniversary of meeting Pedro González Arbona, a short-term Spanish exchange student, and his adoption into our family.  Every year at this time, my internal clock reminds me and sends me down memory lane.  That’s because Pedro’s arrival in our home set a series of life-changing events in motion for me emotionally, spiritually, and with my writing.

While our adventures that first summer were fairly typical of the experiences of host families and their students, the relationship that ensued was not typical.  It led to a deep connection between his mother and me as we prepared for our mothers to pass away; it led to launching Pedro’s music and film composing career; and it led to my church mission to Spain last fall.

Welcome poster

Pedro’s welcome poster, July 2010.

Five Years of Celebrations

So for the last four years, I’ve deliberately marked the occasion in some personal way.

Five years later, and I realized I had never publically shared the behind the scenes story of how this all came to be.  Even the way in which Pedro ended up in our home was not the usual course of events that occurs when signing up to host a foreign exchange student. It was a whirlwind of surprises and quick decisions a few short weeks before Pedro arrived in America.

Pedro at the Nelson family piano, July 2010

Pedro at the Nelson family piano, July 2010

Rekindling an Old Friendship

The story starts in June 2010.  My oldest son was a senior in high school and auditioned to perform a classical piano piece at the Baccalaureate ceremony.  The evening of his audition, our son shared over dinner that one of the judges was Kris, a family friend from our old neighborhood.  We’d lost touch with each other through the years.  She remembered my son from way back when our kids played together.

After years of no contact, I decided to connect with Kris over email.  That started a nice string of replies back and forth and the rekindling of an old friendship.  My son passed the audition, and we made plans to see each other at the ceremony later that month.

Pedro in the recording studio, July 2011.

Pedro in the recording studio, July 2011.

Looking for Host Families

A few days later, Kris sent us an email about Education First (EF), the exchange program that she was in charge of for our area.  She asked us if we would be interested in hosting a student.  44 students from France and Spain were arriving in 4 weeks and they still needed homes for some of the students.

My husband and I had a Finnish exchange student through Rotary International in our home early on in our marriage (over 20 years ago) before we had kids.  It was such a fun experience; we were open to doing it again, and sharing the experience with our now teenage sons.

We had never heard about the EF program.  We learned EF was a short-term program, generally just a few weeks.  Some years the program involved students being in language classes during the day.  Other years the program entailed multiple planned field trips for the students, and lots of unscheduled time to be immersed in the culture and life of their host families. This particular year, was the latter program for 4 weeks in July.

We talked it over as a family and decided to give it a try.  We filled out the application, went through the home interview process, and had our references checked.  Since most everyone in my family had taken some Spanish in school, we requested to host a Spanish male student in our home.  We anxiously awaited word of who our host son would be.

Our EF leaders, Kris & Jan.

Our EF leaders, Kris & Jan.

Matching Host Families and Students

Ten days later, I eagerly opened the email that matched families with students.  When I read our host son’s profile, I was surprised to see that he didn’t play the piano.  During the initial interview process, Kris shared that there was definitely at least one student who played the piano and that we would be matched with him.

From the moment the opportunity to host an exchange student came up, I felt God was calling me to stretch myself outside of my comfort zone.  I was excited about welcoming a student into our home, but I was also nervous about it.

So when I noticed that the student assigned to our family did not play the piano, I prayed about what to do.  Was I to blindly trust that this was ‘the student’ for us?  Was I supposed to speak up and make our desires known?

I contacted Kris about our assigned student.  Her response was welcome news.  She made a mistake in assigning the students.  We were supposed to be matched with a young man from Spain who played the piano.  His name was Pedro!

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

First Contact

Our family had the advantage of knowing a little bit about Pedro and his family by way of the profile sheet that he filled out as part of the EF program.  Right away I sent Pedro an email introduction and family photo.  He quickly replied, sharing his excitement to visit Seattle, and about his love of music and cinema.  He had also looked up our location on Google Maps, said how beautiful it looked, and naturally asked about the rain.

Communication was also then initiated with his parents, Rosa and Rafa.  In our first email from his parents, they told us we “have friends in Spain if you want to come to visit.”  (Three years later I took them up on that offer.)

Several emails followed over the next two weeks before his arrival in our home.  It was a crazy time for us.  Our son was graduating from high school and we had an out of town trip planned to a family wedding.  Somehow I managed to prepare the house and my spirit to welcome this young man into our home in short order.  (I’m sure prayer had something to do with it.)

We had a fun filled 4 weeks together exploring Washington State, and learning about each other’s countries and cultures.  And of course, Pedro played the piano every chance he got.  Unbeknownst to us, he was also playing some of his own compositions, like “Portman,” still one of my favorites.   A few months later, he sent us “Seattle,” a song he composed and dedicated to my family.  (Click to view studio recordings or listen to songs on the media player in right sidebar.)

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Pedro, at the keyboard at the VIP screening of Tempting Fate, Houston, July 2014.

Pedro, at the keyboard at the VIP screening of Tempting Fate, Houston, July 2014.

A Match Made in Heaven

I’ve never regretted opening up our home to an exchange student or specifically to Pedro.   We were so attached to Pedro, we invited him back the next summer for a personal visit.  Five years later our families still maintain regular contact via email, Skype, or Whatsapp messaging.

It was truly a match made in heaven.

The experience has expanded my definition of family and stretched my heart, my mind, and my faith in amazing ways.  Sometimes the geographical and language barriers make our relationship challenging.  Other times it brings such great joy.

When we agreed to host an exchange student in our home, I never thought I was signing up for this kind of long-term commitment.  But I was open to being used by God; and I trusted Him each step along the way.

I have been immensely blessed by Pedro, Rosa, Rafa, and the rest of his family.  They were a conduit for the Lord’s healing to be manifested with the passing of my mother several months after Pedro returned home.  (That is the story published in Journeys to Mother Love.)  Rosa is my Sister in Christ.  I am a proud benefactor of Pedro’s music (pgarbona.com), and relish our friendship.

Pedro & his American family from Seattle, July 2010, a match made in heaven.

Pedro & his American family from Seattle, July 2010, a match made in heaven.

Be the Blessing

We never know how God is going to use some small act of kindness to bless us or others.  I hope you will give heed the next time He nudges you to do something outside of your comfort zone.  The blessing may just be on the other side of obedience.

Pedro EF

Tempting Fate in Houston, Part 1 ~ On the Red Carpet

When I last wrote about Pedro’s Tempting Fate* premiere in Houston, we were en route to the theater.  No limousine treatment for Mr. Pedro González Arbona.  That was reserved for the cast arrival later.  I was Pedro’s chauffeur for the night, and he was stuck with me.  No chauffeur’s cap like he suggested, but I bet I was the best dressed chauffeur at the event.  (His real limousine ride will happen in due time.)

Pedro arrives at the theater for his American composing film debut.

Pedro arrives at the theater for his American composing film debut.

I had many roles for Pedro that weekend.  I was his image consultant, his photographer, his personal biographer, his publicist and his manager.  Best of all, I was his friend.  At any given moment it was hard to separate which role I was playing.  As his benefactor and producer of his first CD, I was grateful to be there for his American movie debut.  It was all in God’s timing, for sure.

At the Keyboard

We arrived at the venue for the sound check, before all of the festivities started, and in advance of the other cast and crew.  Our first introductions were to Doyin Fashakin, the event planner (Events By Doyin).  It was her smooth talking and quick maneuvering that got the keyboard at the event on such short notice.  (Muchas gracias, Doyin!)

Pedro turned on the keyboard and started to practice, but there was no sound coming out of the auxiliary sound system!  I prayed silently—no more problems in Houston.  He fiddled with the cable connections a bit and music soon wafted through the theater reception area. (Answered prayer, thank you, God!)

A musical temptation straight from Madrid, Spain.

A musical temptation straight from Madrid, Spain.

What a delight it was to watch him play some of the soundtrack songs I’d been listening to for the last several months.  At one point, he threw in a sentimental favorite, Seattle, from his first CD.  No one was the wiser except me.  I proceeded to take plenty of photos and some video of Pedro performing.

On the Red Carpet

I didn’t know what to expect at this event.  I’d seen Hollywood premieres and red carpet events publicized on TV in the past.  It always looked so glamorous.  It seemed to be reserved for the biggest stars, and the beautiful people in Hollywood.  But here we were.

This was Pedro’s opportunity to bask in the limelight and to be acknowledged for his fantastic movie soundtrack.  I wanted to make sure that I fit in with the crowd as well.  Like most Hollywood actresses, I spent hours shopping for just the right dress, jewelry, shoes and so on.  After all, it was my fairy tale moment too.

On the red carpet with Pedro at the premiere of "Tempting Fate".

On the red carpet with Pedro at the premiere of “Tempting Fate”.

At the first break in Pedro’s music, we were asked by some fans to have our picture taken with them.  Those were posted on Facebook within minutes; and that was the start of the social media frenzy that ensued for the movie.  I was too busy with my digital camera to post online that night.  However, I did get some photos back to Pedro’s family in Spain.  I was also proud to be handing out Pedro’s business cards and pointing people to his Facebook pageLike, like, like.

Then we strolled over to the red carpet area.  The red carpet was laid down on an area between a row of life-sized movie posters to the left and a row of photographers and videographers on the right.  As you exited the second floor elevators into the event reception area you would walk right onto the red carpet and right into the line of paparazzi.  There are photos all over Facebook at Tempting Fate and Simon’s Aperture.

Pedro's interview with Unsenika Usoro from Afro Centric Television Network.

Pedro’s interview with Usenika Usoro from Afro Centric Television Network.

Media Interviews

We plunged into the fun and had our photos taken together.  Sky Houston, from Majic 102.1 radio station in Houston was on the red carpet interviewing people.  She asked Pedro how he heard of the event.  When he said he was the soundtrack composer, she interviewed him on the spot.  I introduced myself as well, but let Pedro do all of the talking.  He later said he was nervous, but it didn’t show.

Pedro’s second interview was with Usenika Usoro from Afro Centric Television Network in Houston.  Again Pedro did all of the talking, as I graciously walked off camera after our initial introductions.  That gave me the opportunity to get photos of Pedro during his interview.

Cast Arrival at the Meet & Greet 

Pedro performed on and off during the ‘meet and greet’ portion of the event.  People mingled and munched on fine appetizers and drinks in advance of the movie screening.  The Houston sky turned dark and a deluge of rain, thunder and lightning swept across the region just as the limousine carrying the actors arrived at the theater.  We watched from the balcony above as they did some publicity photos in the main theater lobby.

Watching overhead as the cast and crew arrive.

Watching overhead as the cast and crew arrive.

As luck would have it, the storm caused the power to go out to some of the theaters, but it did not affect our reception area.  It was also at this opportune time that the elevator lost its power and some of the actors were stuck between floors.  “Satan really doesn’t want this movie to get out,” I thought to myself as I sent another prayer up above.

Pedro meets John J Vogel, who plays Detective Travis in the movie.

Pedro meets John J Vogel, who plays Detective Travis in the movie.

When the power was restored and cast members started to have their turn at the red carpet treatment, the atmosphere turned more energetic and full of anticipation for the movie screening.  The cast had spent two weeks together filming the movie ten months earlier and now they were reunited.  They had formed a bond over the project.  They were like family, and the celebration certainly had that sort of feel to it.

Pedro on the other hand had watched the movie many times as he synchronized his music to the scenes.  He intimately knew the lines and the characters, but he never met the actors.  He was like an invisible collaborator, working remotely from Madrid.  He was very excited to meet everyone.

Kevin Nwankwor, the producer/director of Tempting Fate, is interviewed by Sky Houston, Majic 102.1 radio station.

Kevin Nwankwor, the producer/director of Tempting Fate, is interviewed by Sky Houston, Majic 102.1 radio station.

We watched from the sidelines as the actors and producers were interviewed by the media.  We had some brief opportunities to meet some of the cast.  They all knew who Pedro was and heard rave reviews of his music.  Pedro also finally met Kevin Nwankwor, his producer, face to face after almost exclusively communicating via email over the last ten months.

We were all here for the same reason.  We were eager and excited to see the VIP screening of Tempting Fate.  Stay tuned for the next post on Pedro’s musical pursuits to hear about the Tempting Fate movie.

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*Wondering where you can see this movie for yourself?  Tempting Fate was produced by KevStel Group, an independent production company based in Atlanta.  They are seeking distributors for release in 2015.

UPDATE 07/05/2016: Tempting Fate premiered in Lagos, Nigeria, during an all-star red carpet event in July 2015.  It ended up being one of the top 10 Nollywood movies of 2015. (Nollywood is the Nigerian movie industry, based in Lagos.)  The movie is one of the top 25 movies of all time in the Nollywood film industry. The movie is available to rent or purchase on Amazon or other streaming movie site.  Pedro’s music and other beautiful music from the movie is also available on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and other music sites.

The Call to Speak, Part 2 – Breaking the Ice

I’m sharing my first Toastmasters speech, the icebreaker, on my blog (it’s more like an author reading at this point) as a way to introduce others to my story and hone in on my message.  It is a work in process.  Part 1 of this series is about how the speaking part of my journey started in the first place.

I know in time I will have multiple venues open up to share my story in spiritual and secular settings over the months and years to come.  The objective of this particular speech is to gain interest in my story and start building my audience as I prepare for my pilgrimage to Spain this summer and the next season of my writing.

As you read the speech, envision if you will, Pedro’s music (the young Spanish man in my story) playing in the background and synchronized with the speech.  When you have finished reading it, I’d love it if you would share your personal evaluations of it in the comments below (like my fellow Toastmasters did at the meeting).

First Meeting

Welcoming Pedro into the family, July 2010.

My First Toastmasters Speech

“My name is Ardis Nelson.  I am a wife, a mother, a writer, a blogger, and a follower of Jesus, whose life was radically transformed a few years ago after opening our home to a Spanish young man named Pedro, as part of a short term exchange program.  With Pedro’s engaging personality and eagerness to immerse himself in American culture and history, he quickly became like family.  Our final goodbyes that summer were very painful to me as we had no idea when we would ever see each other again, but we knew the door of his home was always open to my family.

Since that teary goodbye two and a half years ago, many amazing things have happened between our families.  I am finally traveling to Spain this summer to continue my writing and to speak.  I’d like to share a bit of this story with you in hopes of gaining your continued interest of its unfolding.

Shortly after Pedro returned home to Madrid in August 2010, he found out that his grandmother had brain cancer and only had a few months to live.  My mother was also terminally ill, after having suffered a major stroke, and so I started to connect with Rosa, Pedro’s mother, to offer prayer and encouragement as we both prepared for the passing of our mothers.  There was one minor problem though—neither one of us spoke the other’s native language.  But we didn’t let that stop us as we used online translators to communicate via email and bridge the 5,300 mile gap between us.

In January 2011, six months after Pedro’s departure, he unexpectedly sent our family the song “Seattle”, a piece he composed and dedicated to us.  Although he played the piano in our home that previous summer, we had no idea he composed music until we received this song.  Then within days of the receipt of this song, Pedro’s grandmother died. 

Since Pedro’s family was Catholic, I went to a local parish, lit a candle and prayed for their family.  I also prayed for my own mother who had already suffered over a year since her stroke and was living day to day with the aid of a feeding tube.  I surrendered the outcome of the timing of her death and she passed away two weeks later.


Laid to rest, February 2011.

As I worked on my mother’s eulogy, I started to see how I was beautifully made in my mother’s image.  Since she was mentally ill all my life and we were estranged for many years, I had never connected the dots before.  I was afraid that I would someday be labeled mentally ill like my mother and so I cut her out of my life.  I stuffed my emotions and did everything I could to disassociate myself with her.  The ramifications of these revelations were transformational for me.

On the day of my mother’s funeral, on the flight home to Seattle, I started writing about the story that connected our families.  One year later, my story “Walking My Mother Home” was accepted by a publisher and subsequently released in the compilation, Journeys to Mother Love in August 2012.

Meanwhile, Pedro started to send more of his compositions to me and we were planning for his return to Seattle that next summer.  But little did he know I started to play with the idea of taking him into the recording studio for his 18th birthday.  A few weeks before his return, when I offered him the gift of a recorded CD, he divulged a big secret.  Some of the music he performed the previous summer in our home was actually his original music—including my favorite song titled “Portman”.

Pedro’s CD, “Introducing Pedro Gonzalez Arbona”, is now available on itunes, Amazon, Spotify and other online music sites.  Surprisingly, I also now manage the music career of this young international artist.  One of his biggest dreams, to compose movie scores, became a reality last month as he was hired by a professional production company in Spain.  He has completed scoring the music to a short film and has high hopes of continuing with this company on other bigger projects.

I like to think that all of this started because God nudged me to go outside of my comfort zone and open our home to this young man.  When I did that step of obedience, God continued to open up new opportunities for us to connect and invest in each other.  I invested in Rosa at her time of need and she did in me as well.  In return, I invested in her son and his desires to share his music to a broader audience.

On June 24th, I will step on Spanish soil and meet Rosa face to face.  It is a friendship born in sorrow, nurtured in prayer and sealed in love.  As I mentioned earlier, my writing started the day of my mother’s funeral. I know it won’t be complete until I meet Rosa face to face, hear her side of the story and how her faith and family got her through it. Rosa has been learning English to facilitate our communication. I’ve been working on my next book in preparation for our meeting.  It is our gift to each other and a way to honor our mothers.

I’m looking forward to having you journey along with me as I prepare for my trip to Spain and share my story.  Thank you for the opportunity to share my story with you tonight.”

Speech EvaluationTime to Evaluate

My speech hit right on target for the 5-7 minute speech range.  I  finished by distributing business cards and a few handouts related to my blog and story.  Each Toastmaster wrote a short evaluation of each speaker’s speech.  Later on in the meeting, evaluators assigned to each speaker provided even more feedback.

So now it’s your turn.  You can’t really evaluate how well I spoke, but you can provide your feedback on the content in the comments below.  If you don’t already follow my blog, the best evaluation or feedback you could provide on this is to subscribe to email updates of my blog posts and join me on my journey to Spain and beyond.

A Tribute to Mom, Part 3 – The Music & the Musician

My mother, JoAnn, loved music and gave me a love for it as well.  Neither one of us could read music or play an instrument, but we both had large phonographic record collections (ouch, that dates me).  We also love to dance and sing, although I reserve those times for Sunday morning worship (when I can bury my voice in the crowd) or in the privacy of my own home.

When Pedro, the Spanish young man mentioned in “Walking My Mother Home”,  started playing the piano in our home, it awakened in me my buried love of the same kinds of music that my mother loved, soundtracks from films such as “The Sound of Music” and “The Sting”, to name a few.  Unbeknownst to me, Pedro was interspersing some of his own original piano compositions as well.

Phonograph record & turntable

Phonograph record & turntable

In January 2011, one month before my mother died, Pedro surprised my family by sending us a video of “Seattle”, a song he wrote and dedicated to us.  That was the first I knew of his composing.  This led to my taking Pedro into a recording studio for his 18th birthday to produce his first CD, “Introducing Pedro González Arbona“.

Pedro has become quite an accomplished and prolific composer over the past two years.  He has composed dozens of songs and his music is now available online.  (If you regularly follow my blog, this is not news to you.)  What is news though is that Pedro’s music was recently noticed by a Spanish film production company who has hired him to compose a score for a short film.

“Walking My Mother Home” Soundtrack

Since Pedro’s desire is to compose movie scores, it is only natural that he would compose music that goes along with the story between our families.  He has composed two beautiful songs, “JoAnn’s Song” and “Ardis’s Song”, which I have made into short videos.  The videos (click the links below) compliment my story, “Walking My Mother Home”, published in Journeys to Mother Love.

  • JoAnn’s Song:  The story of the three trips back home to St. Louis to see my mother.
  • Ardis’s Song:  The story of my mother’s funeral ending with my revelations and identity breakthrough.
Pedro rests at the 9-foot Steinway, The Piano Studio, Seattle, July 2011.

Pedro rests at the 9-foot Steinway, The Piano Studio, Seattle, July 2011.

Pedro’s music has become an integral part of my life since my mother died two years ago.  Not only has he written songs for me and my mother, he has also written tributes to my recently deceased father (Van’s Requiem-click link to listen) and Carmen, his grandmother (Bubu-click link to listen), who passed away a few weeks before my mother.

The Fruit of My Labor

It a tremendous gift to watch this young man’s musical talent bloom and grow.  It was fertilized in my home over two years ago.  Like investing in Rosa, Pedro’s mother, as we prepared for the passing of our mothers, I also invested in Pedro.  Both of these people investments have born great fruit.  They have transformed my heart.  And now JoAnn and Carmen are dancing to a new beat together in heaven.

Someday Pedro’s music will be on the big screen.  I’ll be there to applaud his debut with eyes beaming and tears streaming.  Until then, I’m learning to be content in receiving electronic music files of his compositions and partnering with him on his music dreams from 5,300 miles across the world.

If you enjoyed Pedro’s music, please help this aspiring young international artist build an audience and get noticed by clicking the link to like his Facebook page, “Pedro González Arbona”, or share a comment below about his music or the videos.

Expectant Hope, Part 2 – Spain Revealing

I’ve been longing to see Spain and meet Rosa, Pedro’s mother, for over two years.  I’ve been filled with expectant hope for this trip of a lifetime.  Last April, when a dear friend bought my mother’s wedding ring, securing the funds for my airfare to Spain, my dream became more real.  Except for the general time frame of the trip, no concrete plans were set until now.

Making My Plans

On New Year’s Day, I started to research flights and monitor airfares.  It has been an overwhelming process for me with lots of decisions.  Over the past two and a half years I’ve become accustomed to living in two different time zones, nine hours apart, and communicating across the internet.  The difficulty in planning  my trip was also compounded by the language barrier.  In the end, it became a family affair with Pedro and both of his parents assisting with my arrangements.

I AM GOING TO SPAIN THIS SUMMER!  I have my tickets!  The reality is finally starting to settle in.  So today I am revealing my official countdown to the day Rosa and I meet—June 24th—in 149 days.  Coincidentally my plans became final on January 24th, exactly five months to the day I will arrive in Spain.  June 24th is also the date that Pedro arrived on his return trip to Seattle two years ago.  So the date feels anointed to me.

Counting down the days until I meet Rosa, Pedro's mother, in Spain, this summer.

Counting down the days until I meet Rosa, Pedro’s mother, in Spain, this summer.

The Significance of This Trip

If you’ve been following my blog or read my story in Journeys to Mother Love you know why this trip is so significant to me.  The stage was set for this trip when my mother died two years ago—just three short weeks after Rosa’s mother died.  As we encouraged each other and prayed for each other during this painful time, our hearts were inexplicably bonded.

My writing started the day of my mother’s funeral.  I know it won’t be complete until I meet Rosa face to face, hear her side of the story and how her faith and family got her through it.  Rosa has been learning English to facilitate our communication.  I’ve been working on the book in preparation for our meeting.  It is our gift to each other and a way to honor our mothers.

Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing more about my plans.  For now, I can reveal that this is not a typical trip.  It is a pilgrimage for me with deep spiritual significance.  I will be staying for 5 weeks with Pedro’s family and one week on my own to write.  My time will be split between Madrid, in the center of Spain, and Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, where they have their summer home.  It is a dream come true.  I am blessed to be able to write about all of this.  It is hard work, but it is also a labor of love.

Tears of Joy

Falling Rain

Madrid forecast, June 24, 2013, 100% chance of rain showers, concentrated around the airport.

Pedro teases me that the forecast in Madrid on June 24th will be unseasonably rainy.  He is referring to my tears, and those of his mother, as we meet for the first time.  I welcome those tears because they are a sign of my love for this family, my devotion to the Lord and the joy that has been restored in my soul.  So bring on the rain!  I’ll be armed with a box of tissue and an umbrella (just in case).

I am filled with expectant hope of the summer to come.  I hope you’ll join me on the journey by following my blog, liking my Facebook page, or investing in my trip by purchasing Journeys to Mother Love through this site.

Viva España and praise the Lord!

Name That Tune

Ever since we welcomed Pedro into our home two summers ago, his music has become a part of my life.  For the first summer, I watched and listened to him play movie soundtracks on our old upright piano.  Before that summer, the piano was reserved solely for my oldest son, Evan, who for years only played classical pieces from great composers like Beethoven, Bach, Chopin and Tchaikovsky.  Both of these young men were classically trained, yet their music was strikingly different and influenced by the environment in which they grew up.

A Tale of Two Musicians

Pedro at the Nelson family piano, July 2010

Pedro at the Nelson family piano, July 2010

From an early age Pedro fell in love with the cinema, going to movies with his parents and grandparents.  For his first communion he received books from his grandparents about American and European cinema.  He was drawn to the chapters about the composers and started paying attention to how music influenced movies.  When Pedro was eight, his parents discovered he had an ear for music and he was enrolled in a conservatory in Spain.

Across the globe in Seattle, Evan’s interest in music was being fostered by his parents and trips to the symphony with his father.  Evan was enrolled in private piano lessons when he was six years old. With his aptitude for math and complex equations, he was stretched by his teachers to remarkable levels in mastering works like “Polichinelle” by Rachmaninoff.  At the pinnacle of his musical career, we produced two CDs of Evan’s music and he held a fundraiser concert where he performed eight classical pieces.

Evan's final year of music, 2010

Evan’s final year of music, 2010

Evan’s days of playing the piano were winding down when Pedro and his music entered our lives.  It wasn’t until months after Pedro left that we even found out some of the pieces he performed were his own compositions.  All of this led to producing Pedro’s debut CD, Introducing Pedro Gonzalez Arbona, the following summer. (Pedro’s music is available on itunes, Amazon, Spotify, CD Baby and other online music sites.)

The Soundtrack of My Life

Ever since the receipt of “Seattle”, a song Pedro composed and dedicated to our family, Pedro has been sending me his songs—over 30 received to date.  What is most unique about this relationship is how it often feels like I have a soundtrack that goes along with my life—at least this season of it.

Last year for my birthday, Pedro composed a song for me, “Ardis’s Song”.  It was one of the best gifts I’d ever received.  When my father passed away this summer, Pedro composed “Van’s Requiem” which we played at the memorial service. Then when “Journeys to Mother Love” was released, he surprised me with a song for the Open House (The story really does have a soundtrack that goes with it.  I send that to anyone who buys “Journeys to Mother Love” through me or my site.)

Name That Tune

When my birthday arrived last month, I tried not to expect another song, yet Pedro did manage to surprise me again! Unlike last year’s song, Pedro gave me the privilege to name this one.  I’ve been pondering a name for a few weeks.  With my birthday falling on Thanksgiving, I wanted this song and this birthday to stand out from my other birthdays.

Name That TuneSo my new song, “Day of Thanks”, was born from a friendship that transcends the 5,300 miles across the world.  It is testament to how grateful I am for my Spanish connection and so many other blessings in my life.  As a simple reminder of this gift, the ringtone on my cell phone now plays the opening notes to my new favorite song.

Music has a way of touching us at the heart level and lifting our spirits when we are down.  It sets a tone in our movies, in our homes or wherever we listen to it.  With the gift of Pedro’s music in my life, I am never far from my Spanish son or the memories of the good times we have shared.

I have already named my song, but I want to hear what you think.  I encourage you to listen to “Day of Thanks” (click song title) and tell me what you would name this song if you received it.  What feelings or scenes does it evoke in you?  Enjoy this lovely composition and like the American game show from the 1950’s, “Name That Tune” in the comments below. (Please return back to this page to post your comment.)

Thanksgiving Beyond America

Ever since working through my 12 steps for my recovery issues eight years ago, I have adopted an attitude of gratitude in my life—not just on Thanksgiving, but every day. One of the things I am most grateful for over the past few years is my relationship with Pedro and his Spanish family. For Thanksgiving (and as a gift for my birthday—also Thanksgiving day), Pedro has agreed to share his Thanksgiving thoughts from the perspective of a Spaniard.

Ardis:  When was the first time you came to America and what was your impression?

Pedro & his parents in New York, 2009

Pedro:  I came to America for the first time in 2009 for Easter. I went with my parents and some friends to New York, and we all had such a good impression of this country. I could not say why, but we all thought exactly the same thing: Europeans and Americans are different, but we have a lot in common.

Ardis:  And then you returned?

Pedro:  Yes, that summer I went to L.A. to spend a month learning English. My visit to L.A. confirmed that my first thoughts about America were true. This is why I decided to return the next year, and I had the good luck to meet the Nelson family: Ardis, Curt, Evan and Cameron.

We spent a wonderful month travelling through Washington State, and sharing our cultures in a wonderful process. In the next year, when I returned, they had an amazing present for my 18th birthday: a recording session in a studio. We shared another wonderful month and we have continued keeping in touch.

Ardis:  Yes, thanks to the internet, keeping in touch has been very easy. Why is studying in America or learning English so important to you?

Pedro:  Now that the world is globalized, it is required for almost every company to know English. In Spain there are hundreds of international companies which use English as their first language. I’m studying Law and Business Administration, so it is especially important for me to have a good English level. This is why I took English classes since I was 8 years old or studying abroad in Ireland, L.A. or Seattle.

One of the best things about studying abroad is the possibility to immerse yourself in another culture. You have a different experience meeting new people, new places…and when you return home, you start perceiving how different everything is. It is a strange feeling.

Ardis:  That sounds exciting Pedro! I can hardly wait to experience that for myself next summer when I visit Spain*. What about life in Spain? Americans hear in the media how bad things are with the economy in Spain and Europe overall. How does that affect you and your daily life?

Pedro:  Things are very bad here in Europe. Spain and Greece have the worse economy of all countries in the world. It is believed that we will not fully recover to our 2008, pre-crisis economy, for many years. Fortunately, I live in an area where the crisis’ impact is not very hard. In my family there are 4 people who lost their jobs. So, while I don’t feel the Spanish economic woes in my daily life, I notice its effect in my environment.

Ardis:  Does Spain celebrate a similar day of giving thanks?

Pedro:  In Spain this day doesn’t exist, but we all know it is good to remember what gifts we have received and their meaning.

Ardis:  Now that you have such strong family connections in America, how would you reflect on this American holiday?

Pedro:  Thanksgiving Day is a very special day where we have to stop from our daily life and look for what things we are thankful for. When I look back because of the Thanksgiving Day, I cannot say anything but how thankful I am. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be born in a wonderful family, to have the possibility to study what I like, to have met the Nelson family…there is a very long list, so I don´t want to bore the reader. This is why I thank God for giving me this wonderful life around wonderful people. I only can suggest that because of this day, everyone should try to be grateful.

Ardis:  Well said, Pedro.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts with America!

Pedro & Ardis in the recording studio, July 2011

I hope you enjoyed this interview with a cross-cultural perspective. I know my life has been enriched and expanded by having a relationship with a family 5,300 miles across the globe.

Last year for my birthday, Pedro wrote me a song.  I also celebrated my first birthday since my mother passed with friends who have prayed for me on my ‘journey to mother love’.  I will leave you with a music video from that day combined with Pedro’s beautiful song, Ardis’s Song (click link). Pedro’s music is just one of the many things I am grateful for.

Happy Birthday to me! Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 136.1 (NIV)

*I did experience the cultural differences, food, places, and people that Pedro referenced in the summer of 2013. To read about my first-hand experiences in Spain, check out Adjusting to Life in Spain or The Spanish Lifestyle.

A Year To Remember, Part 2

While God was transforming and healing me with my mother’s passing in 2011, He was also giving me a connection with a family in Spain.  Our families met the year before through a short term summer exchange program when their son, Pedro, stayed with us.  Pedro’s grandmother was also diagnosed with a terminal illness and only had a few months to live.  So Rosa, Pedro’s mother, and I ministered to each other through the painful process of preparing for our mother’s passing.

Neither Rosa nor I spoke each other’s native language, but we used an online translator to send emails to each other.  Occasionally, Pedro would fill in the gaps or translate on a Skype call.  Our letters back and forth were beautiful gestures from the heart and proof that with God there are no barriers that cannot be overcome.  Each time I gave to Rosa, I also received from her and vice versa.  It was very comforting and healing.

Rosa, Pedro's mother

Rosa, Pedro’s mother

Early on in this relationship with Rosa, Pedro also took steps to deepen the connection between our families.  In January 2011, Pedro sent us a link to a YouTube video of ‘Seattle’ a song he composed and dedicated to our family.  It was an amazing gift of kindness and gratitude.  Over the next few months, Pedro sent more original piano compositions.  We were astonished by this young man’s talent and oblivious to the fact that he had played several of his compositions in our home the previous summer. 
The more Pedro sent his songs to us, the more I toyed with the idea of recording his music.  And so for Pedro’s 18th birthday, when he was in Seattle, I took him into a recording studio to produce his first CD.  That day was very memorable.  I did a photo shoot of Pedro in the studio for his CD cover, artist photos, etc.  I video recorded several of his songs as he performed in the studio.  Those videos are on youtube.com.  Then we spent several hours with the music engineer editing the songs.  We left the studio with a fantastic master recording of 13 songs from his prepared playlist.  As soon as we got in the car, we popped the master into the CD player.  Pedro was in disbelief—smiling ear to ear—as he listened in sheer delight to his music kiss the speakers and fill the car.
In the days that followed we created all the CD content, labels, burned disks, etc. and mass produced 50 CDs for friends and family in Spain.  The first printing of the Spanish CD was titled, ‘Compositions of Pedro González Arbona’.  An English version of the CD soon followed with the title ‘Introducing Pedro González Arbona’.  After all, I’m betting this won’t be this young man’s only album.  Pedro’s music is mostly inspired by cinema and soundtrack composers like Hans Zimmer and John Williams.  He dreams of scoring a motion picture soundtrack someday.
Introducing Pedro González Arbona, Pedro's debut CD

Introducing Pedro González Arbona, Pedro’s debut CD

After Pedro returned to Spain, I pursued having his music set up for online sales and digital downloads.  Months earlier, Pedro had affectionately started calling me his ‘manager’, but now it is a role I take more seriously.  I used my love for writing to create Pedro’s website copy and worked with Pedro on edits and Spanish translations as well.  By Christmas 2011, Pedro’s music was available on itunes,Amazon, Zuneand various other music sites.  He now has a Facebook artist page and his music can be purchased through his Facebook store as well.  Physical copies of his CD are available on CDbaby.com.

So 2011 really was a year to remember for me.  Although it started with the passing of my mother, it ended with the expansion of my family and some radical ‘career’ changes that I never would’ve anticipated. 
After some of my first published devotionals, one of my friends told me I found my calling.  Those were precious words to me.  I hope and pray that is true, because now that I’ve been writing this past year, I can’t imagine not doing it.  I cannot not write.
In the case of Pedro’s music, I ‘manage’ his American music endeavors out of love for him and his music.  Pedro is like a son to me and his mother is like a sister (which probably makes me more like an aunt).  I am Pedro’s #1 American fan so it is only natural that I would do this for him.  Someday the proceeds will be enough to buy the long-awaited ticket to Spain to meet Rosa face to face.  That trip will be the trip of a lifetime for me as I plan to write about their amazing country and more of the story that has brought our families together. 
That will be a year to remember too.  Will it be 2012?  Only God knows.  I’m waiting for His answer.
4/26/2012 Update: God provided a way for me to get to Spain in 2013.  Here’s the related story. Expanding My Spanish Circle of Friendship 
1/23/2013 Update: Tickets purchased. I will finally meet Rosa face to face on June 24, 2013.
6/24/2013 Update: Read about meeting Rosa and my travels to Spain starting with España Update 1: The Longest Day.

For the Love of Music

I love music!  I always have.  As I think back on my music ‘history’, I’ve realized that I have done some pretty crazy things for the love of music.

It started when I entered puberty.  It was at the height of the ‘era’ when Donny Osmond and his brothers were all the rage.  My bedroom wall was plastered with posters of Donny.  As an adult I still listen to his music.  I went to one of his concerts with my husband when we were young.  It was ‘dreamy’.  Like a true groupie, after the show I waited outside and got to shake Donny’s hand.  I swore I’d never wash that hand again.

Several years later I met Donny again and was on TV with him on ‘Northwest Afternoon’ in Seattle.  It was just one of those things that I had to do–to fulfill that ‘teenage’ dream.  I even have the occasion forever immortalized in my ‘music’ scrapbook.

When I went to college, I outgrew my Osmond phase, but not my love for music.  I became the music director at the college radio station where I got better acquainted with my future husband, the radio station manager.  Music is what brought us both together.  Although we have varying tastes, we both love music.

In recent years, my love of music has turned almost exclusively to contemporary Christian music.  I have many favorites like Stephen Curtis Chapman, Casting Crowns, Mercy Me, Third Day and Chris Tomlin.  I have seen them all in concert many times.  These concerts are not just concerts to me.  I love their music so much that they are generally more like a spiritual experience for me.  The music is inspiring and uplifting.  It is worshipful.

Casting Crowns

Casting Crowns

Mercy Me

Mercy Me

Over the last year, my music taste has taken on a whole new dimension.  Thanks to Pedro Gonzalez Arbona, my host son from Spain, I have taken an interest in modern piano—and Spanish music too.  Producing the CD of Pedro’s original piano compositions has opened up a whole new array of musical interests and pursuits for me.  Afterall, he reminds me that I am his American manager.

Spanish music

Last week, I was at the ‘Meet and Greet’ for Steven Curtis Chapman while he was performing in town.  My son Cameron and I attended with a friend who got free tickets because of her role in an adoption ministry. It wasn’t much of a ‘meet and greet’ as we shook his hand, he answered a question or two and was gone. But with my friend’s encouragement, Steven ended up with a copy of Pedro’s CD in his hands.  Afterwards, my son jokingly said to me, “I’ll never wash this hand.” Déjà vu.

And then tonight a similar situation presented itself.  I have been researching how to make Pedro’s music more available online.  That research took me to the Jim Brickman concert.  I barely knew who Jim Brickman was a few months ago–and only then because I knew that Donny Osmond had accompanied him on some songs.  As I’m preparing to get Pedro’s music available for sale online with itunes, Amazon and Spotify, I discovered how similar his music is to Jim Brickman’s.  So I met him tonight too and gave him one of Pedro’s CDs—all for the love of music.

I have no idea if anything will happen because of these bold acts of blind faith that God has me pursuing. It runs totally parallel to the boldness I have been walking out in my journey with Christ this past year. All I can do is go where He leads me, and when things aren’t quite what I thought or I veer off course, pray that God gently leads me back on His path. Because ultimately it’s all for the love of Jesus.

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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