July 14, 2015

One just can't celebrate Independence Day too much....

  Pinwheel basket

The joy of being overseas during some federal holidays is that sometimes one can have the opportunity to celebrate them more than once.   The 4th of July happens to be one of those special days. This year we've had a chance to celebrate Independence Day on three separate occasions, all of which were memorable and patriotic, whether we were wearing flip-flops or dressed to the nines.

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My office at the embassy ran the community event, as we call it, and my unofficial take is that it was quite a good time.  Whether one enjoyed the delicious pulled chicken, hung out by the pool, became a little misty-eyed during the playing of the national anthems, bounced in the brinca-brinca or worked on becoming a bungee jump master, fun appeared to be had by most (if not all).

Nick 4th of july

 

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Our next event was the official party for the Embassy. I will simply say that it was once again a lovely event, a chance to connect with so many, and to appreciate the beauty of celebrating our country's independence with our host country yet again. It was another unforgettable evening that ended with a spectacular display of fireworks.

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Our third event was the 4th of July itself back in the States.  Just being in the U.S. for such a holiday is a treat in and of itself. While out buying last-minute items for our celebration that night, one person asked what we were doing to celebrate Independence Day. 

My response?  "We are here!"

We had a quiet, but fun-filled day watching parades (with only mildly jet-lagged kids), hanging out with friends, eating copious amounts of delicious indulgences such as grilled bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, and watching never-ending fireworks gorgeous displays of fireworks.  There is something so heartwarming about seeing the red, white and blue decorations everywhere. Even Trader Joe's was festooned in streamers and balloons.   Simple touches that remind one she is home...

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This is as good as it gets when you have still tired travelers the day after their trip...

 

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Oh, the wrath I received for this photo....

 


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And with that, another 4th of July successfully celebrated. Next up: nothing says R&R like a little time at the beach....

 

July 05, 2015

Ah...'Murica

How we are happy to see you again...while it seems like I was only just here with Cait for her brief college tour in February (I will write about it at some point), and Peter was only in the States just last week, neither Nick nor Kelsey had not stepped on U.S. soil since August of 2014. 

So, here we are, enjoying the convenience and ease of vacation life here and the way our dollars simply fly out of our wallets to accompany said convenience.  From art supplies Cait needs for her summer intensive program to the yearning for Thai we've been missing, it's a never-ending flow.  That being said, given how regulated our expenses are overseas, the wallet-lightening is limited to once a year and therefore, well, expected and a bit easier to take.

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The weary travelers at the crack of dawn.


We were very lucky this year to arrive in time to celebrate the 4th of July in the States. A few minor snafus nearly left us in Managua and then Atlanta, two of the three being due to passport issues and, yes, the second passport issue was in Atlanta.  For some unknown reason, our boarding passes for our flight from Atlanta to BWI (no visa needed that I know of) were rejected (the double-blinking red light of no-go).  The gate attendant in Altlanta boarding the flight to BWI (yes, read that again) promptly told Peter she needed his passports (um, WHAT?). He gave them to her, and then they were rejected due to not having the proper visa.

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Okay, definitely appropriate for a traveling day. This tiny bit of humor brightened the day after several tense travel moments.


Yes, really. Apparently, we needed a visa to get to Baltimore, and not the kind that earns you Capital One points...who knew?

So, I boarded with the kids and waited for a very tense 30 minutes, while Peter inexplicably had to explain several times how we A. shouldn't need to show passports, B. do not need visas to go to Baltimore, and then wait for not one but TWO supervisors to show up in the hopes of fixing the glitch. 

Finally, he boarded, the door shut, and off we went...

Then promptly after the Super Shuttle dumped us and our 9 bags of stuff (someone felt like not using his entire R&R allotment) at the Salty Dog 'Stead, we did what anyone in their right mind would do...and headed for the Old Stein Inn so that we could satisfy three meals worth in our dinner (breakfast and lunch didn't so much happen on Friday due to the numerous snafus...but tasty spatzle made up for that quickly).  The kids got to hang, the adults sipped tasty hefe-weiss brews, and all was well with the world....

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March 22, 2015

Happiness is...

turning 13 with a fabulous fun and friend filled party.  Nothing crazy, just 15 of your nearest and dearest over for a swim and pizza party, followed by an amazing cake (and cupcakes courtesy of a friend).  Even more fun that the friends insisted on singing Happy Birthday three times, once in English and twice in Spanish.

Kelsey, my Wee Nugget, turns 13 today.  Yesterday was the official celebration (well, the slumber party went into today) and tonight we will celebrate with a family dinner out at her favorite Peruvian restaurant in Managua. However, before we can celebrate, a little review of her life up until now is in order. Last year I could not do a huge blog post with many photos due to being in FL the night before her birthday. I promised to make it up this year, so here goes nothing...

 

KelseyNewborn055Kelsey was a mere 9 days old in the above photo, dressed up for her first Easter on Sunday, March 31st, 2002.  She was actually not due until early April, but a few weeks after I medevaced to the States from Caracas, I once again started showing signs of intrahepatic cholestasis.  The doctor decided better safe than sorry, and as I was already in misery with the itching, and my bilirubin levels were rising, we opted for induction.

Luckily Peter was already back in the country, though his paternity leave would be cut short just a couple of weeks later due to the coup in Caracas.   We could not go back, so the medevac turned into a departure, and we stayed in Massachusetts until late May.  The upside? We were able to visit Auntie Shannon and watch her become Auntie (Dr.) Shannon when she graduated from VA Tech in May of 2002.

A few months later we moved back to the States, so that Peter could spend a few years working on the Secretary of State's protective detail.  While Peter helped keep Colin Powell safe, Kelsey grew into quite the little toddler. Here she is at her first birthday celebration at our house in Annandale.  

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Not quite a year later, actually, only 6 months or so, but I love this photo of her with Greema Kirk. She was so young when Mom died, so I have relatively few of them together.  This was a weekend we spent with her in late September 2003 in order to celebrate her birthday. Peter was traveling so frequently, so we took many a trip with just the three of us.  This particular day we spent at a farm in New Jersey for a fall festival. 

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 Okay, again, not quite a year later, but likely a few months after she turned two.  Really, I included this particular photo as I've always wanted to do a side-by-side comparison with the one right next to it.  I actually managed to find both and finally put them together tonight and figured that was a sign of some sort....


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The following year, after not quite three years in the VA area, we moved to Reykjavik, Iceland.  This photo is from our first trip to the mid-point between the continents.  It was actually on the way to the base, so fun to stop off halfway, let the kids run around, and appreciate the geographical mystique of living in Iceland.

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The above photo was taken July 24, 2005, and the kids were probably actually a wee bit underdressed....

We spent a lot of time exploring Iceland and there seemed to be waterfalls everywhere we turned...and snow, anytime between October and April.  This particular photo was taken April 15, 2006... 

 

 


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Kelsey enjoyed almost two full years at her Icelandic playschool or leikskoli.  It was the only option for preschool, and while we were a teeny bit nervous at first, she adjusted like a charm.  Mind you, she didn't speak to anyone for the first ten months. She just played, ate, learned how to follow along in Icelandic (she was never told her teachers spoke English) and one day she just popped out with perfect Icelandic.  She refused to speak it with us, and when Peter would try, she'd say, "I just don't know WHAT language you think you are speaking."

We just loved that playschool. They spent most of the day outside in every kind of weather, had good healthy (and varied meals) and took all sorts of field trips from the symphony to plays. They were extremely independent at school and even though I was excited for her to join Cait at the international school, I was more than a little sad when her leikskoli days were over.

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2008 brought many changes, but perhaps the biggest and most exciting (besides moving to Northern California) was the birth of our own little Viking (and best souvenir ever from Iceland), Nicholas.  Kelsey was a big sister at long last, and fell very naturally into the role just before she turned six. Don't worry, I think the camera just startled him...

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It was actually a bit overwhelming to move to California. So many people, and so much to do!  We decided to do right by Cali and treat it like any other overseas posting...by traveling and seeing and doing as much as possible. From Tahoe to Yosemite, from Vegas to LA and San Diego, we really tried to see it all.  We spent spring break 2009, not long after Kelsey turned 7, in Vegas, so could not pass up a trip to Hoover Dam. It was a darn memorable trip, especially after we got lost trying to find the Grand Canyon....

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but no worries, we found it eventually...on our cross-country trek when we moved back to the DC area in June of 2010. Peter was on his way to Iraq, and we thought it might be better to go ahead and move back in case his next post required language. Things didn't end up turning out quite the way we expected, but we still found ways to enjoy our three years in VA (despite the added fun of a second unaccompanied tour in 2012).

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 Given that it had been a while since we had lived in the DC area, and on the heels of our adventuring in Cali, we tried to do the same in DC.  We hit museums and all of the tourist hot spots, including this famous one.  Kelsey is a fairly new 8 year old in this photo, enjoying third grade, and her third year in Girl Scouts.  

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Not long after we moved into a new house in our old neighborhood in VA, Kelsey came running home and said, "Guess what?!  My friend has lived her WHOLE LIFE in her current house. Can you believe that?!"  Given that Kelsey was now in her 7th home over a span of 8 years (including long-term stints in the Residence Inn in MA, and our temporary housing in Iceland), I guess that does seem sort of amazing...

Fast forward a few months and we are not only considering Peter's next tour (which would be another UT), but also his follow-on.  We had a very short list of posts (only 4) that were remote possibilities (since we wanted to have something prior to his departure for Kabul), and once we researched everything to death, we realized Managua was our only viable bid...so bid on it we did, and in November of 2011, it was confirmed as our next post!

We still had a whole year of an unaccompanied tour to get through...and while I was entirely unsurprised, for the most part it was fairly easy. The kids and I were just so busy.  We missed Pete, but between  school, Scouting, swim team (a first for Kelsey),  and everything else going on, life just rolled along.

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Oh, and patrol...Kelsey loved being a patrol on the "big, yellow bus" that Nick ached to ride.  He'd get his wish to ride the bus to school the following school year, though not very big or yellow..but a bus is a bus...

And why not a big yellow bus?

Well, perhaps due to our move to Nicaragua in July of 2013....one minute you are stressing about packing your life into suitcases, unaccompanied air freight, boat freight and storage, and the next minute, you are floating down the (sometimes wild) waters of Somoto Canyon in northern Nicaragua.

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But before we knew it, that first award-winning year in Nicaragua was nearly over. It had its ups and downs (and a few shakes), but Kelsey just rolled with the punches...or tremors, as they may be here sometimes.

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And now?  Now we have a 13 year old. Well, I'm technically finishing this up just a bit before midnight...so in roughly 16 hours Kelsey will be 13.  What more can I write?

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Happy, happy birthday y feliz cumpleanos to my practical, yet creative baker and artist, wee (or not so wee) Kelsey-Delsey D. May this year be the best ever...until next year, of course.

 

 

March 12, 2015

Perpetual August

It's simply what it feels like here to me...every day is warm and sunny, some more so than others, some days have windy evenings, but in the end I am perpetually seasonally confused and everything is...August.

This is not entirely bad, and some aspects of this are quite nice. Perhaps the best is that my daily wardrobe doesn't change.  I need a sweater for work, and if we drive north to Selva Negra, a coat will come in handy, but in and around Managua, and when I'm not at work, shorts and a t-shirt are my daily uniform, especially when I'm in the garden.

The garden: perhaps the number one reason I don't mind the perpetual August. I have an amazing cherry tomato patch (started from seeds that didn't burn up in my old compost pile), roma tomatoes (from purchased seeds) are growing, my basil is flourishing (some from seed, some replanted), the ginger is in good shape, the mint is going crazy, and last, but not least, my compost pile rarely cools down.  

I've also found local parsley, rosemary and thyme (no sage, sadly) at a local garden shop outside of Catarina. We spent our last Monday holiday there, ambling around Mirador, enjoying lunch at Mi Viejo Ranchito, and stopping at Grupo Viverista Torenias.  I've not always found a huge selection of herbs locally, but they had quite a few and an overall amazing selection of greenery.  To have so many now in my back (or front) yard year round and ready to be added to a home-cooked meal is nothing short of heaven.

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Nope, no sage.....


The cherry tomatoes have been ripening in droves, and my favorite post-work activity is to spend a few minutes watering the herbs and tomatoes, collecting any ripened tomatoes, and perhaps tossing the compost about a bit (quite a stress reliever in and of itself).  Today as prepared to go out, I casually mentioned to Nick that I was going to water the plants.

"I want to garden with you! Don't go out without me!"

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Music to my ears. I love that he is thrilled to help water, collect tomatoes, perhaps pluck a bit of basil for tasting, and help me with the compost.  A friend stopped by to play while we were outside, and he offered that he could play after he finished watering the plants for me.

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Ah...the little (and not so little anymore) things....  
 

 

February 20, 2015

Can you spot....

the newly minted 7 year old?   Hard to believe it's been so long since the little guy arrived on that snowy February evening in Reykjavik.  Even harder to believe is that it has been nearly 7 years since we left Iceland...yet the LG to this day still considers his time in Iceland to be a huge part of his life.  So much so that he will happily announce to his friends, "Yo soy de Islandia!"  

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In order to properly celebrate, we headed towards cooler weather for the weekend. Sweaters, and even jackets are welcome for the next few days, while we enjoy a brief respite from the drier weather of Managua, and celebrate the fact that the Little Guy is...well, no longer quite so little...

 

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February 06, 2015

And that's all she wrote

About *that.*. You know...that of which I no longer speak as that would take me back to a time of fear, uncertainty and confusion. Today was my final doctor's appointment with the surgeon. I had the 'gram earlier this week (all clear), a follow-up MRI yesterday (also all clear), and was given the blessing to have only annual screenings from here on out vs. diagnostic exams.

It's been a long, weird, stressful and scarring almost 5 year journey that has been winding down for the past two years and I'm finally, with the surgeon's hearty "Congratulations," this morning, going to consider over. I know I will always have to be *aware* (how I loathe that term)...but at least I'm can feel relief in my quiet awareness.

Thank you to everyone who has been there for me...and God forbid anyone else go through this nightmare, I will gladly be there for you...

For now? Off to get Cait, visit her first-choice college and wrap up our visit to the States...and return to our blissfully normal lives in Nicaragua...

January 03, 2015

Christmas 2014

was a laidback and casual affair for the most part in our household.  We did have a bit of rushing around on Christmas Eve (had to pick up the smoked ham that had been sent from the BBQ place near San Juan del Sur), but by dinner time things were a bit more relaxed.  We had a lovely smoked chicken, and our empleada prepared the side dishes.  We still had a lot of prep work for the next day, so as soon as dinner was cleaned up, Kelsey started in on the cookies.

 

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Kelsey is our resident baker, and her sugar cookies have no competition.

A quick note to Santa and both kids were off to bed....

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though I think one fell asleep much faster than the other.

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Having already slept in quite a bit, so I could get coffee AND breakfast going,  Nick could not wait for his sisters to wake up the next morning to get that brief glimpse at the tree.  Given that he would otherwise not be able to go into that half of the house, I thought a little peek wouldn't hurt...

 

 

The girls were soon up and ready for presents.  The gift opening always goes quickly, but we  try to get as many photos as possible to share with those who couldn't be with us...here are a few:

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A kickball from Aunt Amanda was a very happy surprise...

 

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as was the Lego idea book from Grandpa & Dibby!

 

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Kelsey was thrilled to find (among other things) baking supplies  under the tree,  cake decorating lessons from a friend in Managua, and

IMG_0401a Gryffindor scarf, courtsey of Grandpa Steve & Nonni!

Cait was pleasantly surprised by her new camera, as well as several movies and art supplies. Perhaps the biggest gift was opened at "Second Christmas."  Second Christmas is quite popular in the FS, and in my thoughts, underappreciated.  Yes, it's nice when everything arrives at once...however, given the tree will be up until the Epiphany, a few late parcels can extend the Christmas joy a bit.  In fact, there are rumors we might have a third Christmas this Monday...

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Yes, rather extravagant, but she has to have one for school. Her old laptop is MY old laptop and is dying a slow death. She had no idea this might be coming, so whether it was on Christmas Day or Second Christmas, it was a most exciting gift.  Many thanks to Santa Shannon for ensuring its safe arrival!

And there you have Christmas 2014 in a nutshell.  Perhaps the best part, besides being able to share dinner with friends or hopping in the pool if we felt like it (though I DO miss the cold and snow!):  how truly grateful the kids were for each and every gift.  Nicholas savored opening each gift and thanked us (or the giver) profusely after he finished opening each one and the girls were equally as grateful.  Thanks to all who contributed to our holidays through cards, treats or emails, and here's hoping yours were just as relaxing and happy.

 

 

December 22, 2014

La Chureca

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Peter assisting with the pinata....

Yesterday, we had an opportunity to participate in a family service project. I have been trying to find one for a long time, and bounced many ideas back and forth.  My office ended up coming up with a perfect one that would allow many folks to participate, and given that it is with a long-standing organization, we will be able to continue volunteering while we are here, and supporting financially once we are gone.  

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A very focused Kelsey passing out pizza...

This is not to say there are not many other worthy organizations here, as there are and we already have another group lined up to receive our support this year.  However, there has to be a starting point, and that was yesterday with the children who are assisted by the organization, Pure Heart Children's Fund, which is run by a local couple, Dean and Winnie Peters.  The organization exists to help feed and educate the children of La Chureca (the Managua city dump). While improvements have been made recently to the area to include relocation, there is still assistance needed, particularly for the children.

Saturday was a Christmas party for over 200 children (200 were anticipated, likely many more attended).  It was a crazy fun afternoon of pinatas, lunch and milk (donations from our families), and donated toys and school supplies given out at the end.  In fact, we weren't sure we would have enough, but between the toys that others brought and the toys and supplies we had, there were plenty of leftovers that could be donated to the preschool the Peters are running to assist those living near La Chureca.


In addition to the preschool, the Peters assist with daily feedings for the children.  They feed the children Monday-Friday, and truly give their hearts and souls to this project.  We truly enjoyed our time on Saturday, meeting the children, watching them dance and play, and plan on ensuring that helping out Pure Heart is an integral part of our time here in Managua.

 

November 30, 2014

Our First 5K in Managua

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Before.....


or 2.64 miles according to Pete's GPS, but if the shirt says 5K, I'm fine with that. Yes, today we *ran* our first  5K here.  I'm not sure when Pete last ran one, but my official recent race (not counting the umpteenth times I've finished the C25K), was  in late 2011.  Sigh.

I've been meaning to sign up for one here, if nothing else as motivation, but I end up not necessarily hearing about them until too late (as in, I need 9 weeks notice to do another C25K) or we are out of town, have an activity, the list goes on.  Finally, I heard about one the past few weeks, and there was going to be a team from the embassy.  I thought about it, forgot about it, remembered, and finally said, "To heck with it, I'm doing it," even if doing it means walking quickly for a bit.  

I'd dillydallied so much that we missed the online sign-up, but the website assured us because it was a free run, that didn't matter. Sure enough, to their credit, it was amazingly easy. We signed up with our names and ages and received our free, very fitted t-shirt, and we promptly switched out our shirts for those.  I was even given in a compliment in said shirt, so a good day right there. 

After a bit of chatting and a few warm-up exercises, we were off!  I had no idea of the route, and was pleased to see since the roads were not completely blocked off, that the police were directing traffic. Part of the path had us running in one lane, while traffic was in the next, however, the cars were mindful and the route was one I would never normally get to run.  I'm hoping a future race will go along the same route, as I'd love to take photos.  We ran just along one side of Laguna de Tiscapa, and could view the statue of Sandino as we trudged  flew along.  The air was clear, no dust, and the heat was not yet too much (generally anything past 8 a.m. can be a wee bit hot...doable, but very, very hot).

I'm not sure of my exact time, as I left Pete in the dust (if you will) about halfway through.  I did a rough calculation and fairly sure that of the 2.64 miles, I ran at least two miles, if not a bit more.  Not going to win me a medal, I know, but a good workout, and we both remembered that 5Ks (especially early a.m.) can be fun!  I was a bit nervous about the whole thing since my latest C25K went a bit wonky a few weeks ago, but this morning put me back on track...now just to find our next race (and maybe I will actually time myself in that one...).

 

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After...early brunch at Pepe Morin. We earned it!

November 18, 2014

Somoto Canyon, Revisited

You know when you have those places that just get to you...you visit them and they somehow just sort of take hold of you?  Somoto Canyon has become that place for our family. If you remember Nick's thoughts from a few months ago, I think it's safe to say it made quite an impression on all of us.


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Last weekend, we had our second annual trip to the canyon.  We used the same tour guides from last year (of course!), and while our family knew what to expect, it was still a new adventure.  We started the day before the crack of dawn at the embassy, and slept most of the way to Somoto.  We arrived by 9:30 a.m., knowing the drill and ready and raring to go.  Once the group was assembled, our cadre of 5 guides plus rode with us to the drop-off point.

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We had the same hike through the woods to the water, with the amazing views of the water and into Honduras.  Unlike last year, I did manage to lose a third of a toenail on the hike, but worth it for the overall experience.  Within an hour after starting, we were lowering ourselves into the (sometimes) raging rapids for the first time.  The water was much higher this year, giving us faster rides at times, but also a very pleasant and lengthier floating experience mid-canyon.

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His dismay at the paparraza managing to find him in the canyon


We floated, crawled, hugged the walls of slippery rock, swam, and jumped our way down the canyon.  I can't say there weren't a few moments when I didn't feel a wee bit nervous.  There were several times when I felt like the ledges were somehow narrower than last year, or just nearly non-existent.

Finally, at one point, I started to get a bit nervous. There was next to no toehold on one ledge. I had a guide nearby, but he was hanging on next to nothing, and so was I.  Suddenly I looked at the wall, and realized this was one of life's defining moments:  nothing mattered except what I did in the next few moments.  No papers at work, no bills, no worries about anything else...my entire job was simply to hug the side of the canyon and know that my grip on the wall and the tenuous grip of my Tevas (which seemed so much more slippery than my falling apart shoes last year) on the one-inch toehold would magically keep me going. 

It did...and I realized I need to remember that.  When everything feels like it's falling apart, I need to remember the feeling of hugging a canyon wall and realizing that my life really is in my own hands and that it all will be okay.  More to the point, the feeling of traversing the entire canyon and making it through relatively unscathed.  Or more satisfying? Watching my kids traverse the canyon, jump, freeze, cling to walls, be carefully slung over the back of the ever-watchful guides when the rapids are too much for their little legs, and after walking several kilometers through all kinds of terrain, hearing them say again and again, "When we come back here next year..."  And maybe next year, Cait will finally make it? (To her credit, she really gave it a lot of though this year...)

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And we will go back next year...Somoto has taken root in our hearts and just won't let go.  To Brian, Francisco, Franklin, Henry and the rest of our guides and hosts, thank you.  You have twice now given us such an amazing experience and we can't wait for the next adventure...(more photos coming soon...)

 

 

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