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

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.

Writing: My First Year, Part 2 – First Steps

I’ve had a burning desire to be a writer ever since my mother died about 1½ years ago.  But it wasn’t until I voiced that desire in a support group meeting one year ago last week that my desire started to become more of a reality—emotionally on the inside and visibly on the outside.

Since that day, I have received one confirmation after another.  Coincidence? (more…)

My Spanish Connection – Introducing Pedro González Arbona

Those who know me well know that I have undergone some dramatic changes in my life over the last year.  It all started with the opening up of our home to an exchange student from Spain in July 2010, Pedro Gonzalez Arbona.  Pedro and his parents are like family to us now.  Even though his mother Rosa does not speak English, we are like sisters.  We have gotten to know each other very well over this past year as we communicated via online translators. 
We have both had a difficult year with the passing of our mothers.  But God was merciful to us as we were able to comfort and encourage each other in preparation for the inevitable.  He blessed us with some miraculous healing as our mothers entered eternity just three weeks apart. 
Another one of the ways that our families connected is through our love of music.  Pedro was initially placed in our home because he plays the piano.  What we didn’t know at the time was that Pedro was actually a budding composer.  In fact when he played his music in our home that first summer, he played some of those pieces, but didn’t let on that he had composed them.
Six months after Pedro left, he sent us a link to a youtube video for a song he composed, “Seattle“, and dedicated it to our family.  This was the first clue we had to this young man’s talent.  Over the next few months, Pedro continued to compose new songs and sent them to us.  Each time he did, I became more and more convinced that his music needed to be shared with a broader audience.
When Pedro returned to Seattle this past summer, in celebration of his 18th birthday, we took him to a recording studio to produce his first CD, ‘Introducing Pedro Gonzalez Arbona.’   We recorded 13 of his 18 original compositions.  Pedro’s songs are inspired by the events and travels in his life.  They range from beautiful melodies based on his travels to Rome and Paris to songs that celebrate and memorialize some of the key milestones in his life thus far—from the painful reality of losing 10 teachers from his school after the Al Qaeda train bombing in Madrid when he was 11 to the joyful completion of his university entrance exams at 17 this past June.
Ardis introduces Pedro at his American debut, June 2011

Ardis introduces Pedro at his American debut, June 2011

Pedro is also an avid cinema buff—American and European—and his music definitely reflects that as well.  His favorite composer is Hans Zimmer who composed soundtracks to such major motion pictures as Inception, The Lion King, Sherlock Holmes and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  Pedro recently got noticed by Hans Zimmer through the aid of twitter after Pedro sent him a link to one of his compositions, “Portman.”   Hans Zimmer responded that the piece had a beautiful melody and that Pedro had a future in composing scores.  That is high praise for any musician to receive let alone an 18-year-old who is just starting out.

As Pedro’s ‘American manager’, a term he jokingly coined for me, I am inviting my friends and family to give your ears (and eyes) a treat by viewing and listening to some of Pedro’s music on youtube.com.  (Do a search on his name or click on one of the above links.)  If you like it, please share the link on your Facebook page.  His CD is now available for purchase also.  Soon it will be on itunes, Spotify and Amazon to download as well.  The CD cost is $12.50 for one or two for $20, plus $5 shipping, if necessary.  To purchase a copy of his CD, you can contact me directly or email ardis@pgarbona.com.
Introducing Pedro González Arbona, Pedro's debut CD

Introducing Pedro González Arbona, Pedro’s debut CD

I am not doing this for profit though.  It is a labor of love.  All proceeds are going to a fund for a trip to Spain so that Rosa and I can meet face to face instead of just virtually on skype.  I know that day will come.  Rosa is learning English in preparation for it and I am managing Pedro’s American music endeavors.  (Pedro is studying law and business administration at a university in Madrid where his real career goals lie.)
I never imagined I’d be going down this road in my life.  I never imagined I’d have family in Spain either.  I was pretty content in my own little corner of the world.  But the events of this past year have been a testimony to God’s healing and mercy if we surrender to His will.  It is proof that there are no geographical, language, religious or cultural barriers that God cannot break down.  For me all it took was accepting the invitation to open our home to a young man from Spain and choosing to invest in him and his family.  
What about you?  Where is God calling you to invest in someone or stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone?  You’ll never know the opportunities that await you unless you take those bold steps of faith and follow His will.
5/1/2012 Update: Pedro’s music is now available online through itunes, Amazon.com, Zune, Spotify and various other music websites.  His music can also be downloaded through his Facebook Store.  Physical CDs can be purchased at CDBaby.com.
8/3/2014 Update: I visited Spain and met Rosa in the summer of 2013. It was the trip of a lifetime, 6 weeks on a reciprocal sort of exchange program. You can read about my travels starting here. Pedro and I devoted many hours to his musical projects while I was there. Hans Zimmer was right about Pedro. He has gone on to compose for several movie projects including his latest American film score to Tempting Fate. You can find out more about the music of Pedro Gonzalez Arbona on The Music pages on my site, check out pgarbona.com, or like his Facebook page, Pedro Gonzalez Arbona, Composer.
On the red carpet with Pedro at the premiere of "Tempting Fate", July 2014.

On the red carpet with Pedro at the premiere of “Tempting Fate”, July 2014.

 

  • WELCOME to my site!

    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.

    I am thankful to God for Making Me Bold in the process. Now I use my writing and speaking voice to help others on their journey to turn healing into hope.

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