August 12, 2015

And there she goes...

off in the bus for the beginning of...



first grade?  Senior year starts today and yet it seems like she was just boarding the big, yellow bus for the very first time....


(Insert parent fail, can't find Second Grade first day pic. Please imagine highly bundled child headed off to first day of school in her new school in Iceland.)



First day of third grade, Reykjavik, Iceland


Fourth grade for Cait, Reykjavik, Iceland


If the backdrop looks like a Residence Inn...well, what FS kid doesn't start at least one school year from a hotel, temp housing, you name it?  Above we have the beginning of 5th Grade in San Ramon, California. 


And the beginning of sixth grade and middle school for Cait, this time in front of our house in San Ramon. 


Our move back to VA allowed Cait to start middle school yet again and if you can tell from the photo, at the crack of dawn (or so we thought until we moved further south).


8th grade and the bus still not taking the hint that the crack of dawn is too darn early for pick up...


(Skipping 9th grade, as the hour had become even earlier, and thus even harder to muster enthusiasm to hop on that bus.)


By the beginning of 10th grade, we had moved to Managua, Nicaragua.  Now the bus comes at 6:15! To think we thought 6:40 was as bad as it could get...


They were actually very excited to start school. At this point we had been stuck at home for nearly 5 weeks with no car, and they were thrilled to hop on that bus and be with others their age for a few hours.

  2014-08-11 06.15.31

Not quite as excited as the previous year, but, hey...




And with this we suddenly have a senior in high school. An amazingly bright and talented person who will take the world by storm next year wherever she decides to go...Happy Senior Year, Cait!

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.

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


  Pool pick nick


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.





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...

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


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



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


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.

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.

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....



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.  


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. 


 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....

JenSmile060 KelseySmile059

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.


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... 




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.


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...


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 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....


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).


 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.  


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 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.


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 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.


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.

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


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.

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!"


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.


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!"  


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...





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.


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

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


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


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 are a few:


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



as was the Lego idea book from Grandpa & Dibby!



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...


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

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.  

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


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 just to find our next race (and maybe I will actually time myself in that one...).


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 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.

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.


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.

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 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...)

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...)



November 03, 2014


is one of our favorite holidays, even when overseas. Some might think it's not widely celebrated overseas, but every post we have been at has had enjoyed festivities involving the embassy and local expat community.  It's no exception in Managua, and given that my office runs the Halloween party, we are as involved as we can be.  Due to not wanting to overlap with our school's fall festival, the Halloween celebration took place the last Saturday in October.  

My one despair?  Due to the fact that I was helping to run the Trunk or Treat, Halloween dinner & party, and Haunted House, I didn't actually get to take many photos.  Nick volunteered to decorate the car as Peter was busy doing security stuff, I was working on the party, and the girls were prepping the haunted house.



It's much scarier with a bit of darkness, the strobe light, and the creepy haunted house music.

We ended up having not quite as many folks as last year (logistically a bit easier), but every one of the 160 plus guests enjoyed many handouts at the trunk or treat (until the rain interfered), a catered dinner (with so much leftover that we were able to feed staff that had to work that night), and an amazing haunted house.

I tasked my teen, a few of her friends, and a few adults  with pulling off a creepy, yet original haunted house and they nailed it.  I was the test subject, and nearly had the pants scared off me. I hear they are already plotting next year's theme....


I'm not actually sure this is considered a costume for Nick anymore, as it's pretty much his everyday wear.  It worked for the evening, though.  Oh, and check out Alan Grant (the paleontologist from Jurassic Park).  If we'd had time for a costume contest, Cait might definitely have won most original.

Now to plan next year's event.....


October 14, 2014

Sulphur gets in your eyes

when you climb too close to the edge of a volcano. As you may recall, the family visited Volcan Masaya nearly a year ago in an attempt to get a few cool volcano pics. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to really hike around too much.

Since Peter and I had the day off today, and the kids rightfully went to school, we headed out towards Masaya to hike a wee bit.  Okay, a lot a bit. We've got a walking competition going on at work, I've got my fitbit, and I figured hiking around a volcano has got to add a few steps, right?  Well, minus the steps you lose when you slide a bit on little, slippery volcano rocks.

We actually tried to get a guide this time, but none were available at the visitor center.  We had no desire to wait an hour and really didn't need one, so headed out to the crater by car.  We parked our lone automobile in the lot, and found a map, albeit slightly confusing.  We quickly found a trail to our left comprised of lots of lava rock and large logs that made a meandering staircase up the hill. This led us to a second trail which was a part of the San Fernando Crater and Trail. 

We wandered a bit to the left of the  crater, which somehow had us start to head back down to the parking area (yes, we probably would have turned around eventually, but...).  We went back the way we came and then headed up a slowly steepening incline.  We reached a midpoint, where a park ranger stood nearby relaxing under a tree, and we realized we had a panoramic view of the San Fernando crater (now dormant).  It was a lush, green, untouched jungle paradise.  

Can you see those people way, way up there?  This is actually quite high up already, so we opted to finish the rest of the trail another day.

Despite our desire to climb even further, we realized we still had to tackle lunch in Granada, as well as a trip to a local leather shop, Soy Nica (they handcraft the items in the back of the store). I'll admit, I was also a teeeeny bit nervous. You know when you are a wee bit high in the air, there are no guardrails, and everything is at your own risk and so you decide maybe not to climb the highest hill? That was today.  I felt a bit wimpish seeing a gaggle of folks hanging at the top, but figured we still have plenty of time here so we can tackle that another day...

We hoped to finish our hike with a trip up the steps to the Cruz de Bobadilla, but sadly the area is still closed off due to fears of a landslide.  We don't want to tempt that fate, of course, so took one last view of the surrounding area, and then found ourselves leaving the park and headed to the lovely town that is Granada....

And just as this blog post was in process, a 7.4 earthquake hit the coast of El Salvador which is not so very far away.  That shake back in April? It was bad, but this was much worse...felt like two earthquakes combined, with the second part being so strong I was sure we were going to lose a major appliance or two.  It woke up Nick, ensured the girls won't sleep tonight, and the poor dog nearly had a heart attack.  No word yet on damages in the least we had a lovely day?


September 25, 2014


A few weeks ago we had the opportunity (at long last) to visit the Flor de Caña factory in Chichigalpa. In my mind, it was a much longer drive, but the reality is that even with traffic, we are a mere two hours from a rum-lover's paradise.  Now, if you know me, rum is not exactly my cup of tea.I tend to enjoy craft beers and wine more than a swallow of rum and realize why after taking the tour yesterday: it's likely just not sweet enough for me.

My office organized the trip (shocking, I know) and we headed out early on the 6th of September.  Peter and I figured the kids would not be too keen on the trip, so they stayed home to hang with friends and our empleada.  While we initially hit a tiny bit of traffic, we soon scooted past trouble spots and hit hit the open road.  Two hours later, after only one wrong turn (well, going a bit too far, but got a nice tour of Chichigalpa when we did), we ended up at the factory.

Now, when one arrives at Flor de Caña (I'm not going to try to give directions, easier just to hire a driver and enjoy the ride), there is a door that is labeled "tour."  That is actually your second stop, as you have to stop at the second entrance, the ticket booth, first, and then backtrack to the actual tour entrance. Oh, and regardless of how many people you have, one person can buy tickets for all. This is much easier than dragging everyone off the bus to pay individually.

Once we arrived at the tour door with our tickets in hand, we were led inside to a generous parking area. We were advised to stop at the restrooms first (the tour is 1.5 hours and the grounds are spacious, but no facilities), and then walked over to the engine for the first talk.

Now, I'm going to gloss over a bit, so should gentle readers choose to visit us and go on the tour, they won't feel as though they've heard it all before (and they will get to properly sample 18 year rum!). Once we were finished with the introduction, we were loaded into a mini electric tram.  The company as a whole works to conserve energy where they can, and in fact, the energy they create from the sugar cane processing is enough to fuel the distillery and the sugar factory.

We were shuttled over to our first stop where we watched a short film about the birth of the company.  There were no questions after the film, so we then immediately headed to our next stop:  our first tasting.  I would have loved to take photos of the whole process and the interior of the tasting room, but not allowed for obvious reasons.  

The glasses were already filled when we entered the room and an expert taster waited for us and then proceeded to explain patiently exactly how to taste the rum.  I wasn't sure I needed to sip, as the aroma alone was quite intoxicating.  However, after he explained how our each of our 5 senses plays a part in the enjoyment of the taste, I couldn't help but take a sip...or two.  We finished (some of us) our samples, and then had the chance to view the barrel making facility and followed it up with a tour of a bodega, or storage room filled with barrels of rum of varying ages.

Our last stop was the museum and gift shop.  No photos from the first level, but this sampling, on the second floor, was fine to snap a pic or two.  We finished our trip with a few small purchases (that taste of the 18 year blend sealed the deal for Peter).

We finished our day with a trip to León  for lunch.  While not identical, the architecture was reminiscent of Granada.  We found a lovely hotel, Azul, with an airy and open cafe that serves a wide variety of dishes (from gazpacho to curry) and also carries the famous Erdmann's of Ticuantepe.  

Although a longish day from the driving, the tour was very good, well-worth the money, and our stop in Leon was refreshing.  We had been wanting to visit for a while, and will definitely go back and perhaps visit Hotel Azul again. Lucy, our hostess, and her entire staff were amazing and very accomodating for our large group of visitors, which is always appreciated.

Now, I've just read Erdmann's runs home brew to investigate that for my craft beer loving self and perhaps another field trip is in order?

September 19, 2014

Friday Fun!

Today's Friday Fun is courtesy of a foreign body stubbornly inserting itself in my heel and refusing to be plucked out.  A few weeks ago, I was walking around in our den and felt a sharp stab in my left heel. I assumed I had stepped on a random Lego brick, since our floor is carpeted in them, and took a look at my foot.  

Nope, no such luck. I looked, saw a large sliver of glass, grabbed my fine point (technical term?) tweezers, grabbed that bad boy out, washed my foot, put on cream and band-aid and called it a day.  Well, until a few days later when my foot still really hurt and wasn't healing as fast as I expected. The pain went up and down for a few more days and I figured since I walk on my foot each day, well, maybe it was just taking longer.  Last Sunday I decided to go for a walk and while there was a little pain, I figured I could deal with it.  Then I tried to run and I knew there was no way there wasn't something stuck (now well) inside my foot.  Walking was bad, running was awful. Felt like something was digging into my foot (well, yeah...) so cut things short, limped back home and took a good look at my foot.

Oh, and I googled "glass stuck in foot" and of course got all sorts of scary stories. I tried scraping the would with tweezers rather not so gently and...this course of action is not recommended.  By Sunday night the spot that just felt like a small bump was a bigger, redder bump and a lot more painful.  I vowed to make an appointment at the health unit on Wednesday (work and school closed Monday & Tuesday for holidays) and limped around for the next two days.

Three days later it was confirmed *something* was afoot (ha!) and I was immediately given an appointment for x-rays and a visit to the orthopedic surgeon (no joke).  The x-rays (a whopping $42, paid by debit card) were easy, and 40 minutes later I was in the surgeon's office.  Nothing showed on the x-ray, but a little painful pushing on my foot and he confirmed a "foreign body" of sorts was in my foot. They made my appointment for "foreign body removal," refused to charge me until after the procedure, and I left the hospital and went back to work.  Two hours and I'd managed to have x-rays, a thorough consultation, and the commute to and from the hospital.  Not bad!

Today I dragged Pete along figuring I prolly wouldn't want to drive home and for that whole moral support thing.  Within an hour, I had my foot properly cleaned (slightly unnerving part: I had to lay on my stomach for the least I could grip the table tightly when he was moving the needle all around the bottom of my foot?), anesthetized, the "bump" cut open, offending piece of glass removed, insided scraped VERY clean,  had it stitched up with lovely red thread, bandaged, covered with a wrap and after paying $310 for the initial consulation and procedure, I was limping along on my way.  

The best part? I did not kick the doctor or the nurse when he gently inserted the needle in my foot and my other leg promptly shot up in the air and remained there until he was finished.  The doctor was extremely kind and gentle, and even spoke to me in English the entire time. I could have handled it in Spanish, I realize, but when I'm even a tiny bit nervous...somehow the English helps.  The worst part really was the needle .  Of course,  I'm grateful for the needles  if he tried cutting, scraping, sewing, etc., with no anesthetic...

So, there we have it.  Apparently, I hadn't had any weird back issues or random infections requiring surgery recently, so this was my payment to the medical gods this month.  I'm still a bit limpy, but already a lot less pain.  Amazing how much pain a teeny-tiny shard of glass can cause!  

And here is my healing heel in all of its glory....enjoy while I ponder what odd medical issue I will have next month.  So, if you are ever in Managua, and need an orthopedic surgeon, I have a great one for you...actually, I have a long list of wonderful medical professionals. Wonder who I will add next month?

September 10, 2014

Little tidbits

Nick still offers them, but I don't remember them all. I try to file them away in my head, occasionally note on Facebook, or blog them, when I need to just write them down somewhere...

Today was one of those long days and even though I didn't have to stress about dinner, things still seemed to crazy. I was being pulled in several directions and exhaustion and crankiness was setting in quickly.  As I was helping Nick get ready for bed, he started talking about a school project.

"So, we had to write about our favorite place in Nicaragua (said with a perfect accent).  We also had to draw a picture. So, I drew and wrote about my favorite place in Nicaragua which is Somoto Canyon."

I haven't seen the picture yet, but he drew pictures of us doing jumps off the tall rocks and floating in the water.  I have a feeling despite my wanting to continually declutter, this might be a keeper of a drawing.

After he told me about his picture, I realized I was so much calmer and less tired.  As I began to help him brush his teeth, it occurred to me that my favorite place in my home state at age 6 was likely a toss-up between my grandmother's house and the Dairy Queen (we could ride our bikes there).  Nothing wrong with that, but at that moment I was once again reminded that at the tender age of 6, the LG has lived in two states in the U.S. and two additional countries.  His favorite place in Nicaragua is a place I couldn't have imagined at his age, much less traversed through it like I owned the place. Nor did I ever ask my parents weekly, "When we move next time, what country are we going to live in?" 

Those little tidbits sometimes have a very big effect....



August 19, 2014

You say it's your (16th) birthday....

Yep, someone is 16 today! Considering I just turned 29 (okay, again), it seems nearly impossible, but somehow Caitlin has gone from a wee one to...well, see for yourself...



The above photo was taken by our good friend, Janet. Ignore my wacky hair and feast your eyes on baby Cait.



At a whopping 5 days (me thinks) old!  Grandma Judy was in town and snapped this photo while we were hanging by the pool (Dad was at training in West Virginia).  



This was either taken by Janet or her husband, Jack, also a much better photographer than I can hope to be.  Here is our first Christmas card photo with Cait.  Maggie, our bassetdor, clearly felt this whole photo thing was old hat.  


Cait1stbirthday014 we are at the first birthday, with Cait delicately eating what was (of course) her first bite of cake and ice cream ever (not).  She also had an amazing decorated-by-hand Winnie the Pooh cake courtesy of Auntie Shannon.  Sadly, I don't have a photo handy (must reorganize photos), but it was almost too beautiful to eat....almost.


Here we have Christmas 1999!  Anyone noticing a trend with the cards?  To answer the obvious question, yes, Maggie posed, and no, she did not mind the get-ups.  I must find the photo of her in her bathrobe (monogrammed, of course).


Let's fast-forward a bit...otherwise, we could be here for days (not that there is anything wrong with that!).  Here we have Cait enjoying the beautiful sands of Curacao in November 2002.  We had moved to "Caracalus" three months prior so Peter could work in the "Ombassy" and managed to take a quick trip over Thanksgiving. While most folks were there for the diving, we were just thrilled to have a quiet beach to ourselves for a few days.



Summer of 2001.  At almost 3 years of age, Cait is enjoying a visit back to the States for R&R.  We were visiting Grandma Judy and on this day, walking around Main Street in Yardley.  Such a lovely little town for visiting.



Here we are at a little petting zoo just outside of Caracas.  We were headed back to the States within a few weeks of this photo in order for me to give birth to Kelsey.  Cait was very much enjoying the summery weather before we had to head back to near freezing temps for a while.

  Kelsey birth019

Just like that...Cait is a big sister to wee nugget, Kelsey, born on March 22.  We had an adventurous medical evacuation that I won't detail here, but suffice it to say, we were very glad to be able to finally return to Caracas as a family in late May of 2002.


And she just keeps growing up...we are now in the spring of 2003. We've been back in the DC area since early August 2002.  This photo is courtesy of Grandma Judy, who visited frequently while Dad was jet-setting around the world with VIPs and such.  


Another photo by Grandma Judy at Cait's 5th birthday, AKA, the obligatory Chuck E. Cheese party. Peter was traveling again, and, hey, if it makes life easier and the kids like it?



Then before we knew it, she was 6 and starting first grade, and riding the bus.  Oh, the wails we heard from Kelsey daily when Caitlin left.  There is no fury like that of a 2 year old who does not get to ride the big yellow school bus...



Less than a month later, she was a flower girl in Auntie Shannon's wedding on the beach.  I remember thinking that I couldn't believe she was already 6....


By the following June, we were living in Iceland.  Just a wee bit of a change, but by then Cait was a bit used to the moving and adjusted quickly to life in Reyjavik.




Learning how to ride Icelandic horses in the snow....Fall 2005.


The spring of 2006 found us all traveling to Germany with Peter. He had a conference, and we had a great time touring!  Kelsey and I went off to investigate castles and the Zugspitz, while Caitlin learned how to ski at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Pretty cool spring break, if I do say so myself.




Cait sang in an Icelandic girls' choir in the fall of 2006.  In the above photo she is ready for the Christmas concert.  One of the guests?  The president of Iceland!  




Fall of 2007 and her fascination with Laura Ingalls Wilder is parlayed into a project.  The arm?  She forgot to wear her inniskór (inside shoes) one day in school and while giving her sister a piggyback ride, bent over to pick up a coat and two broken bones in her left arm later....


Baby's first glacier?  Lots of changes over the year and Caitlin is now a big sister times two.  Wee Nicholas Quinn made his way into the world on February 20, 2002 (February 19 for those in the States).  This photo was taken our anniversary weekend of 2008, just a month before we were slated to move to....



Recognize it? If you've been to Muir Woods, it would look a bit familiar.  Here is Cait at nearly 10 years old and now living in her 5th home (not counting the wide variety of Residence Inns that we've called home) just outside of San Francisco, CA.



2009 had us traveling everywhere in California, from San Diego to Yosemite. One of the most exciting trips, though, was a mom and daughter venture back to MD & VA for Auntie Shannon's baby shower.


April of 2010 and our time in California is drawing to a close.  What better way to spend it than having lunch at a tea room and then catching a performance of Wicked?




2011 found Cait doing all sorts of crazy things like turning 13...a teen, at long last!  Which means that things like high school couldn't be too far away....


2012 found a few more changes headed our way.  We'd learned that we would be moving to Nicaragua (yea!), however, it would only be after Peter spent a year in Kabul (boo, of course).  Cait received a little end of 8th grade gift in the form of a trip to Iceland for a week to visit old friends and  old haunts.  


2013 and so many changes, yet as usual she handled them with grace.  From Peter's return from Kabul, the move to Managua, a new neighborhood, school, friends, language...and perhaps the best: a wee kitten named Kai adopted a few months into our tour.

And now...


Now we have nearly 16...




Artistic genius (well, please, I'm still on stick figures...)



Yep, the artistic thing again...maybe it's just because I'm her mom, but her talent just stuns me.  Our plane to Chicago (this summer) was delayed, so I sent work-related emails and played words with friends...she sketched for hours.


The above photo was taken during our mom and daughter trip to Chicago. Given that we knew a license and a car were not necessarily going to happen for this birthday (an issue with a lot of FS kids), we figured a fun trip would be the next best thing.  Cait and I spent 4 days in Chicago and she was able to meet up with a friend from Managua to attend a couple of Starkids Shows (and they met Joey Richter!).  Okay, I didn't really know who he was before that night, but it was a Very Big Deal and I respect that.

It's now 12:18 a.m. MGA time and technically her birthday. Of course, I'm thinking until it's 9:34 a.m. (11:34 a.m. VA time) she is not *quite* 16.  It's her birthday, though, right?  So, it's time to say...


Happy birthday, Cait. Happy birthday to my firstborn artistic moves-every-few-years and likes it.  You've had a crazy life, but you've adapted with grace in a way I still cannot match.  We love you so very much, Little C. Happy, Happy 16th Birthday!




August 03, 2014

Monumental Attractions

We had a whole lovely trip (or several) trips to DC proper planned on this R&R.  Unfortunately, nasty little things like doctors' appointments conspired to suck away nearly three full days that could have been spent anywhere from beside the swimming pool to hanging at the Washington Monument.

As much as we had hoped to spend more time in DC, we ended up with precious little time there. We swung through on Thursday afternoon, very briefly, on our way to VA to pick up Kelsey.  With a few minutes to spare, enjoyed seeing the Lincoln and the mall with 1.5 million tourists (while crowded, nice to have our home metro area appreciated by so many).   Perhaps the most amusing part was driving in, managing to park near State, and having Cait shout as she saw the Department, "Hey, that's where they have Bookfair!"  That's my girl...

We took the requisite photo near Lincoln (Nick refused, but since he's been there more than a few times)...

  Photo 5

Then walked over look at the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument.

  Photo 2 (1)

And, last, but not least...Nick's other favorite, the Einstein.  I'm going to have a whole album just of Nick and Albert.

  Photo 3

Maybe our next visit will give us more time and we can finally go up in the Washington Monument or visit Air & Space again.  However, even with our short time there, at least we had a few moments to stand and reflect.  Given our lifestyle, not a bad thing to do every so often.

July 08, 2014

In a stunning turn of events,

this time last year, I was asleep. Stunning primarily as it was the night before our move to Managua, and I never, EVER get more than three hours of sleep the night before a move. I mean, standards, right?

Somehow, despite the insanity of the year, the fact that I had semi-major surgery 6 weeks before the move, and that I almost broke my toe the day before (thank God for the ice packs we had forgotten in the freezer), I logged almost 7 hours sleep on this night last year.  We had a late enough flight that we could haul ourselves in our car from the Salty Dog 'stead  back to our house and still have 45 minutes before the Super Shuttle showed up to take us to Dulles.  Ironically, yesterday I made our reverse Super Shuttle reservations to take us from BWI to our first stop on our R&R on Thursday. Have I mentioned that I am so very excited vacation (well, some vacation, some it always goes) is almost here?




I realized tonight that I never actually blogged about our journey to Managua.  We've had so many internet and computer issues, that it's been hard to keep up with the basics, much less the truly momentous occasions.  At long last...our move to Managua (sort of) in pictures!


Our favorite "Fur-in" service gato praying that the journey was over...
Luggage? What luggage?
One of my favorite photos from the eager travelers.



Never hurts to review that safety information....
Departing Miami and getting ready to say hasta luego to the U.S.



 The luggage made it....


and so did the weary travelers.




Within the hour, we were in our new house (for the next three years)....


And someone instantly felt right at home....



June 30, 2014

One Dinoia flew the coop

for vacation a couple of weeks early and suddenly the house seems so quiet.  Peter woke up well before the crack of dawn this morning to get cash for our intrepid traveler, the traveler herself was up a few minutes later, and I dragged myself out of bed with just enough time to get dressed and make myself a cup of coffee before our ride showed up to haul us to the airport.

Despite having only decided to pack around 10 p.m. last night, Cait managed to mostly fill two duffles and a carry-on for her flight today.  She tried to take more, but I reminded her gently that she is going TO America and therefore she should wait to savor the lower prices and overwhemingly display of choice that is anywhere in the U.S.   She agreed and thankfully came nowhere near the weight limits.

It's not her first trip traveling overseas by herself,  but her first time connecting by herself and she opted to actually use the unaccompanied minor service (available with American until age 17).  I had a terrible experience with the same sort of service once when I traveled at a young age, and thus always preferred to be on my own.  However, she was a wee bit concerned about passport control, luggage pick-up, and navigating the airport in general and I never dealt with any of that until I was an adult.  After much discussion, we opted for the service and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

If you ask nicely, you can get the direct line from BWI to Target...

The cost was $150,  but that guaranteed assistance to the gate in Managua from the airline instead of us (and that included sailing past 150 or so in line at security), help with passport control, luggage pick-up, drop off, and connecting in Miami, and then assistance at BWI.  Not my cup of tea, but she was far more comfortable and in all likelihood will have no issue connecting by herself in the future.  Oh, and having her phone reactivated early ensured the moment she landed in Miami, she had a way to reach us if necessary.


"The Eagle has landed."

And now we have merely 10 more days until we have our pickup and then we are off to the U.S. for a 3.5 week holiday....well, journey that will hopefully have more pleasure than business.  Not exactly a vacation like we originally planned, but we will have a little over a week or so of fun with friends, Cait and I will escape to Chicago for three days (an early birthday treat for her),  and our favorite beach is calling us for a 4 day trip.  I can almost hear the waves and taste the beach bbq....

June 13, 2014

Take One LG,

add a cap, a gown, a little Louis Armstrong...and pass the tissues, his mom is in tears. 

Today was Nick's promotion ceremony from kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten. Not college or high school, but kindergarten.  I went along with the pomp and circumstance, buying a new outfit (to include shoes he will likely wear once), and purchasing a photo package before the event even started.  However, I still didn't think it would affect me. I'd take a few photos, nod and smile, but think to myself, "It's ONLY kindergarten."

Until Louis started crooning What a Wonderful World as the graduates lined up to walk in. Let's just say thank goodness I don't touch mascara with a 10 foot pole. I would have been a complete mess.  


The LG walked in with his usual smile and confidence. He sat with his friends, sang a song, accepted his diploma, and goofed around while waiting to depart.  It was a short and sweet ceremony that really revolved around parents running to the stage to snap that quick photo...and while they are adjusting the camera, instead of a 6 year old, they suddenly catch a glimpse of an 18 year old...or a 21 year old...and realize just how life is suddenly going by so darn fast.

The image is gone and there is the Little Guy again in all of his 6 year old glory.  Happy and ready to take on the world as a newly minted first-grader.  I take a deep breath, shove my Puffs back in my purse and realize I have...

only a few hours before I need them again.  Apparently awards ceremonies make me as verklempt as graduation ceremonies.  This morning was about Nicholas, and this afternoon revolved around Kelsey.

I knew a few weeks ago that an award ceremony was to be held this afternoon, but wasn't sure if my presence was needed. I had no idea what the ceremony would entail, how many awards would be given out or if Kelsey even wanted me to show up.

Then I received the email and there was no doubt about my attendance. The email that reads, "Your child will receive an award," and you know, come whatever or high water, you'd best be there.

After Nick's ceremony, breakfast, dropping him off, racing into work, working, and then hurrying back to the school, I found myself back in the same covered athletic area, waiting for the ceremony to begin. I realized I had no idea what awards were on tap until I asked for a program.

A few minutes later (not a moment too soon, as it was, well, warm to say the least), the program began. It was fairly short and to the point, and started off with Presidential Awards for Academic Achievement for students in the 6th grade class.  Lo and behold, look what my Wee Nugget won with her hard work and dedication.

I would be proud of her this year whether or not she won an award.  However, the fact that her work was recognized...well, cue Niagara Falls. It's been such an unexpectedly different year.  We've had some weird years in the past, but this one takes the cake for keeping us constantly on our toes and wondering what will happen next.  

For now, though, I'm basking in the glow of knowing that while my kids have had a more interesting year than we planned, they have all made it through relatively unscathed.  Here's hoping next year will be a little calmer and if all goes well and we actually finish planning our R&R soon.  We  might even have a wee bit of a real family vacation this summer during that trip that will have us calm, rested, and ready for whatever life throws us during the next year here....




May 21, 2014

We've had our share

of interesting anniversary celebrations over the past few years.  Last year's was, well, not really happening.  We ended up having a dinner out a few days after Peter came home, but for the actual date, he was still in Kabul. May 2012 was equally crazy, thanks to his impending departure for Kabul, and the 'gate, as we call it.  Nothing like a little excitement to get things going right before a PCS!

While Peter was here for the anniversary in 2011, it is safe to say I was still in a funk. I had only just finished radiation, and that whole spring/summer was sort of a depressing wash for me.  Knowing we were bidding on Kabul due to my inability to stay healthy during his Iraq tour didn't help matters.  Even 2010 was nuts, as we were just weeks away from packout and our trip back to the Virginia area for his UT.

So for the first time in years, we, Peter, was able to plan a weekend away.  We were not stressed (relatively speaking), we are healthy, we are not moving (not even bidding this summer!), and it was only one night so we figured the kids could deal.  We both had a busy work day on Friday, so our weekend actually began Saturday morning, when we packed up and headed off to the area of Tola.  Our actual destination was the Aqua Wellness Resort.  I can't describe it better than they can, so please click through and see what they have to offer.

I had *liked* them on Facebook years ago, upon learing about our assignment and have been eager to go ever since.  It was approximately a 2 hour drive through somewhat rugged areas (an SUV here is never a bad idea).  We passed through the usual rural areas and our only scare was a goat who decided it simply must run in front of our car as we drove through its town. No tragedies, and on the way home, same story but with pigs.  We arrived, found security easily, and then drove up a windy road. One has to be careful, as there isn't much signage. If you see the small, brown sign that says "recepcion," follow it, as that's your clue you have arrived at Aqua Nicaragua.

Yes, this was our suite. Bedroom on the right and kitchen area on the left, with the pool in between.

We checked in and after being given a description of the facilities, the classes, and the hours of the restaurant, we were led to our "room" (see above).  Apparently, they had to upgrade us due to our original room being renovated.  Oh, gee, okay...

Obligatory selfie.


The pool was small, but lovely...especially after a hard day of lollygagging about on the beach and being tossed about by the waves.

I was apparently so excited to have a whole night to ourselves, that I forgot to take a photo of the room.  It was a high ceiling-ed wonder with everything designed in a gorgeous wood fashion with the exception of gorgeous metal hooks in the bathroom area.  Even the floor of the shower was constructed of wood planks. The bed was a comfy, king-size masterpiece that had (with the screen doors open) an impressive view of the surrounding woods and the ocean.  Nothing like napping with the doors open and hearing nothing but a few birds chirping and the roar of the ocean in the background.

It's safe to say we had a bit of the beach to ourselves.


We noshed on ceviche and fish tacos, soaked up sun, were tossed about the waves, had a beachy beverage, napped, ate some more, enjoyed the get the picture.  We relaxed!  It was amazing...quiet, refreshing, and just what we've needed for a long time.


I drank my frosty beverage while Peter checked on our dinner reservations or some such thing... 

I even managed to finagle a massage combo.  A relaxing, but thorough massage followed by half an hour of foot reflexology.  Oh, and a glass of freshly-squeezed calala juice (passion fruit). I just can't get enough of calala....


The view from the massage area. I highly recommend visiting....

Now, while I was thinking about this trip, I realized it seems in some respects (well, minus several airline flights and about 6 days) similar to our honeymoon. It was the first time in a very long time that we've been able to truly relax on a trip, for a variety of reasons.  It occurred to me that not only did I not ever really do a honeymoon scrapbook (which I'm now going to tackle full throttle), but, of course,  I couldn't blog about it.  So, how about a little look-see at that journey?


Yes, we spent 8 days in Ireland!  Peter actually wanted to travel State-side, but I had never left the country (minus one trip when I was three) and I was desperate to do so. Ironically, I had this awful nagging fear that we otherwise never would leave the country and I would spend my whole life living and working in the States without seeing the rest of the world.  Funny that....

Now, it's been a few years, so pardon the condensed description.  Also, it's a honeymoon tale so, really thinking that a basic review will suffice.  We landed in Shannon, rented a car (first time for Peter driving stick on the opposite side of the!) from Dan Dooley rent-a-car and headed off to see the Cliffs of Mohr.  Peter posed with a scruffily cute mutt and his owner near the Cliffs and learned quickly you don't actually pet the dog, you just pose with him.  The Cliffs? Utterly amazing...

Maybe outside Bunratty Castle? Oh, why I didn't keep a diary....

We spent the night at Dromoland Castle and it was just beautiful.  Perhaps the only negative was Peter packing up the car the next day and forgetting my overnight bag in the parking lot.  He promptly remembered upon our arrival in Dingle.  Oops.  I mean, who really needs a toothbrush or what-have-you, right?

It was a windy drive to Dingle, but the town was amazing and the views were gorgeous.  We were doing the B&B route, so spent a lovely night in a local house and couldn't help but get take-out fish and chips fresh from the sea.

I think the sign says it all....


We spent the rest of the trip driving throughout the country. We passed through Kilkenny, Cork (where my ancestors on my father's side hail from), Dublin, and Waterford.  I wish I had a better diary of the days (though I prolly still have the itinerary somewhere), but we were so busy just seeing, driving, and soaking in everything Ireland had to offer.  


Can't tell I had to remove this photo from a collage to scan, can you?

We ended the trip with a night in Shannon.  We had a rather sumptious dinner at Bunratty Castle and spent the last night at hotel in Shannon.  Somewhat ironically, Peter ended up back in that same hotel on an SD trip about 5 years later.  

Obigatory touristy photo.

Oh, to recreate that honeymoon at some point.  It's not a trip we have planned right now, but there was so much we saw and yet, how we wished we could have spent so much more time there.  I suppose there is always next year's bid list....

May 07, 2014


On Monday morning, I will get up, help get the kids on the bus, and then go back to bed. And,that, my friends, is nothing short of a miracle. Not the getting up or going back to bed...nope, the "putting on the bus."

You see, for the past few weeks, school has been canceled. It has been a bizarre limbo-like experience where each week (sometimes as late as Sunday) we wait to hear if schools will reopen.  Finally, today, we got the news we have been waiting for since the end of Easter break.

Why was school canceled? The basic reason is that the area was under a Code Red alert due to the earthquake we had on April 10th.  Somewhat logically, schools were closed April 11, in order to assess damage.  However, then the code red continued, as we had further seismic activity.  Nothing like the April 10th quake, but school was canceled nonetheless.  

The long and short of it is that my kids ended up spending three extra weeks at home that were not always as fun as they might seem.  Since I work, I cannot stay home with them on sudden breaks. While they received distance learning assignments, they did not get the social interaction from school that they needed, nor nearly as much out of the house since we could not simply stay home.

I must admit, never in my wildest dreams did I foresee this happening. I've thought that a lot of things could happen overseas, but an extended, unexpected break from school was not one of them. I've realized now that I need a lot more ideas in my mental "go bag" as well as having a larger evacuation fund in case something like this happens again. And since the kids were already in school, and doing "distance learning," I couldn't arbitrarily start up a homeschooling program.  I've also learned that I really like my kids going to regular school.  I have yet to find an absolutely perfect school, but my kids getting out of the house, having social time, and being able to see their friends even on days I work is especially important.

And I will celebrate a wee bit.  We have a return to normalcy as of Monday and that is long overdue.  Even better?  Now I feel like I can really work on our R&R plans, since those went on hold during the school hiatus.  Oh, and maybe a glass of wine poolside...I think I've earned it!

April 19, 2014

First Horseback Ride at

Selva Negra. We had the chance to go for a horseback ride while at Selva Negra for the weekend. It was supposed to be thirty minutes and ended up nearly being an hour. Nick had never ridden a horse before, but with a ride that included a bunch of trotting, lots of hills and a near gallop, Nick declared it a "little bit awesome!"

First Horseback Ride at

First Horseback Ride at

April 12, 2014

Just another day at work...

Technically speaking, since 1/8 of my job is to plan events.  Now, I can't take full credit for this one.  I only helped a teeny bit, as this was mostly my coworker's doing.  She knew of this amazing sailing tour company (and the taco place, and the gelato shop...), and I just aided a little bit in the end of the planning.

Since part of our portfolio is to get folks out and about (yes, including ourselves) we often opt to do things that aren't difficult to do on one's own, but might be easier the first go-round as a group.  Two weeks ago, it was hiring a sailing company to take us on a 5 hour roundtrip just off the coast of San Juan del Sur, a beach town along the Pacific Ocean in southern Nicaragua.

The drive to SJDS (as oft abbreviated here) ran around two hours, but can run more if one ends up behind a horse & wagon or slow moving truck.  Highways here aren't quite the same as in the States, so always best to allot more time in case the drive is a bit more leisurely.  This is not a bad thing, though, as fruit stands overflowing with watermelon and pineapple dot the road to the beach and it's never bad to have a bit more fresh fruit (oh, the watermelon juice one can make here...).

We had decided in advance to spend the night (and, yes, loved our hotel), but were not able to check in until after our sailing adventure ended.  We were all hungry by the time we arrived in SJDS a little before noon, so fueled up first at Taco Stop.  All varieties were good (I loved my fish tacos) and one can get good, fresh guacamole upon request.  

Someone is all set for a day of sailing.

We arrived at the docks (parking is secure, and only for those sailing) a bit early, and entered around 1 p.m. After last-minute trips to the bathroom and changes, we split up into two groups,  so that we would not overload the water taxi.  Thirty minutes later, all 25 plus were happily on the catamaran and headed out into the water.



The dolphins showed up right on time.

We sailed for approximately an hour and a half, most of that time enjoying fresh pico de gallo, guacamole, ceviche, and amazing views to include dolphins and whales sidling along our boat.  After the relatively short sail, we anchored 20 or so yards out from Playa Blanca. 

Playa Blanca...freezing water, gorgeous beach!


Our transportation for the afternoon...

Yes, the name says it all...a gorgeous pale sand beach that lines a short jaunt of the Pacific.  The water is very clear and cold (says the person who dove in not realizing just how cold the water was).  There were plenty of tide pools formed in the rocky areas, and the kids enjoyed watching the pigs (from a local beach house) amble down and around the surf.  We spent a good 45 minutes to an hour there and after meeting a few friendly tourists from London on vacation, we waded a bit woefully back to the boat so that we could sail back to the dock.

Everyone loved exploring the tidal pools.

I won't write much more about the trip, as I feel like many journies in Nicaragua, it's one a person needs to experience for his or herself.  I can impart that it's utterly amazing until I'm blue in the face, however, it might not be until a reader is laying on the ropes in the boat, facing the wind, noshing on the pico de gallo and feel like every care in the world has disappeared that he or she might truly understand what a journey it was and how sad we were that it only lasted 5 hours.

Someone knows how to seriously chill.

That was not the end of the weekend, though, and we can't ignore the night we spent at Villas de Palermo.  It was set back a mile or so on the outskirts of town, and a bit difficult to navigate getting there at night. However, once we arrived to check in, Peter set the location in the GPS, and we knew we would not have any issues later that night.

Our villa was pricey (269 USD plus IVA), but gave us a generously sized 2 bedroom and 2 bath (one per story) space with a small kitchen.  We did not do any cooking (not enough time) but it certainly would have been possible.  The decor was rustic and comfortable and my only complaint was forgetting an extra pillow from home (and a blanket...the a/c kicked into overtime, to my surprise).  We were all quite exhausted after the sail, and headed to bed early in order to rise early and enjoy a morning swim before we headed home.

When I think hotel pool...well, this fits the bill.

The overnight included a sufficient continental breakfast, and the local coffee was just perfect.  We watched a cruise ship in the distance make a slow turn throughout breakfast, and the kids ate, changed, and hopped into the pool to enjoy a few hours of swimming before we checked out.  We decided to lunch there before departing, as there isn't much on the road, and we were amazed by the food (and reasonable prices).  Lots of veggies and fresh fish, but the steak lover was also happy with her filet.  My only complaint? They were out of lobster ceviche...guess I will have to save that for the next trip?  


Note:  San Juan del Sur is approximately a 2 hour drive from Managua.  Parking is available at the marina while one is on the sailing tour, and street parking is ample if you stay in town for dinner.  We highly recommend the sailing company, Nica Sail & Surf, and loved our stay at Villas de Palermo. If you have lunch in town, Taco Stop is the bomb, and don't forget to try the gelato at Super Frutto.



March 22, 2014

Kelsey, my wee Nugget

you turn 12 today! I meant to type this post last week, but between last-minute surgery, and my trip to Ft. Lauderdale, well, life got in the way.

I'm not actually home yet, but will be by the time you turn 12 at 3:45 or so this afternoon (since we were two hours later at the time of your birth while on medevac from Caracas...and then authorized departure...our lives were never dull).  I won't be there to make a birthday pancake in the morning, but knowing you as I do, you will be just fine with Dad making the special birthday breakfast. And while I wish we could have our big celebration tomorrow, we will have a spectacular time celebrating another friend's birthday and have a big bash for you in a few weeks.

Happy birthday, my dear sweet girl.  You are such a thoughtful and generous spirit.  Miss you, love you, and hope 12 is an awesome year for you!

March 06, 2014

It's time to close a chapter....

Though if you know me, you know this has been coming for a long time.  A few weeks ago, I headed back to the States, ostensibly for a fun trip, maybe to check up on the house and make sure it was behaving, see friends, and just enjoy the luxuries of Target and Whole Foods, even if I really didn't need much from them.

The real reason behind the trip, though, I kept a bit quiet.  Those who needed to know did, and I left it at that. It was time for the dreaded annual visit and ogram, and I really just didn't want to have the focus of an 8 day trip be on two hour long appointments.  More importantly, for the first time since this whole nasty business happened, I realized I was okay going to these appointments. I didn't let them stress me out as much, and knew that nothing would be up.  

To clarify: I didn't think anything would be up in the past. However, I'd let doctors, nurses and radiologist idle comments bother me, and this time I vowed to ignore them.  I did fairly well, all things considered. 

I had the 'gram' first, and I suppose it could have been worse. Over quickly, got the usual (but not as pushy this year!) "you *might* want to consider an MRI later in the year" and that was that.  A friend went with me for moral support, and I am happy to say the entire thing lasted maybe 45 minutes and soon we were happily on our way out the door.

Next up, after numerous iced mochas at favorite haunts, and many, many, many good meals (but SO rich!), was the actual annual check-up.  This time, unlike last year, I got a push for an MRI, but not until the summer (I said okay *if* we are back).  Of course, it was coupled with that dreaded phrase, "because you are so young." I am so, so, so tired of that.  Just say, "because" and be done with it.Being told that I'm too young, and no one this young 'gets' it implies that somewhere along the way I did something or somehow this is all my fault.  I know no one else my age or younger appreciates the "you're so young" bit and it really just needs to bite the dust.

Other than that, nothing major or unexpected.  I was told as of next year, due to my reconstructive surgery being more natural, I will end up having a normal ogram on both sides. I'd often wondered why I hadn't in the past, and apparently new logic dictates that, yes, it makes sense.  While I can't say I'm thrilled, nor do I feel the ograms are the end-all, be-all, it's like I'm even more back to my old normal. Both sides, just like it should be.

So, there we have it. I went back to the States for my medical exams, and all is well.  While I was there, it occurred to me how little these doctor appointments meant to me.  They are, at this point, an inconvenience at best.  I have not had any treatments in years, I'm not recovering (or anticipating) any surgery, and short of when I look in the mirror, I don't really think about what happened anymore.

I realize not everyone feels this way, but for me, that is a very good sign. It means, to me, that it's time to close the door on this whole nasty business.  I take care of myself and according to my lifestyle review, should never have had the whole thing happen in the first place.  Therefore, it's time to put it behind me once and for all.  I only have one remaining yearly exam, maybe an MRI this summer, and then it will be just normal annual check-ups from here on out. 

What does this mean?  Well, you are likely to never read another blog post on the topic. I simply don't have the enthusiasm or desire to write about something that never should have affected me in the first place.  Everyone is more than aware of my anti-pink stance (and that won't change), but there are so many other topics that need discussion other than the fact that I'm still tired of an overly pinked disease that is neither sexy nor fun.  I mean, really, isn't everyone waiting with baited breath for my long overdue article on tax tips for those on unaccompanied tours?  Way more exciting!  

Should anyone be concerned, this does not mean I am not up for discussing the issue should someone need to chat with me. I have no issues with one-on-one conversations, especially if for support purposes, God forbid anyone else goes through something similarly awful.  However, it's simply not a part of my life anymore, and I can't drag out that which simply doesn't interest me.  It had been waning for the past two years, but I finally realized on my trip home, that as far as I am concerned, it's over.

I think, if nothing else, it really hit me when I had a completely unexpected and intrusive conversation regarding my health during my trip. No, friends, none of you.  A completely random conversation with a near stranger where I was asked everything from why I'm not on Tamoxifen (seriously, that again?) to attempting to stresss me out about my daughters' futures.  I am just not sure I can express how infuriated I was or how intrusive I found such a discussion.  No matter what the intentions, I had not had a discussion like that with anyone in a very long time, and hope never to have another one again. It was full of comments, some criticism, and a lot of unexpected and unsolicited advice, none of which I needed. It. Hurt.

So, I'm finished. I'm over it and I've moved on. I'm happy to provide a shoulder to lean on, an ear in need, but I will not be blogging about this anymore, because it's not a part of my life. I'm happy, healthy, basically back to my old normal, and the assumption is that I will never, ever deal with this again.  This in no way negates the amazing and overwhelming support I received while I was dealing with everything, and I will never forget that.  However, it's time for me to move on...

Speaking of support, while I was back in the States, I had a chance to meet up with a bunch of fellow Foreign Service bloggers. I've been lucky enough to have already met a number in person, and made the acquaintance of a few more that night.  We had several hours of lovely conversation and discussion at Lebanese Taverna (you just can't have too much LT in one trip), and I realized how grateful I am for this lovely group of folks. Even if we don't get to see each other terribly often, there's a kinship in the FS world that can't always be described in words, but really just makes the lifestyle so much easier.  Thanks to everyone who came that night and *if* we make it back this summer, I'm totally up for another blogger night out!


A grand night that included: Fabling, The Wandering Drays, Just Us, Schlink Attack, Freckle-Faced Girl, Travel Orders, Like Nomads, B Files, and Is It Better Than A Brownie.




February 20, 2014

Portrait of a 6 year old

Yes, he is asleep, but he technically turned 6 two hours shy of midnight. If you remember, Nick came into the world early on that snowy February day in Reykjavik.  Early enough that when we alerted our families in America, they said, "Born late on February 19th," forgetting for a moment that it was well into the 20th for us.



A quick look back...

3D VIKA 29+_28
29 weeks old and already we can see the family resemblance...
About 20 minutes old...



Visiting his first glacier a day shy of three months.


Sailing with the sissas on the Salty Dog and acclimating to America.


Loving fall in California...almost 9 months old.


First Christmas....


And he's one!

Newly two....

Three came with lights and sirens out of nowhere...


Four barreled down on us like a freight train....
Five was thrown at us like an unexpected snowball....


And now we are being drawn into six...

Happy birthday to our 'amazingly intense yet knows when to break into Gangnam Style for comic relief' Little Guy.  The LG who is rapidly becoming bilingual and assimilates like his country, new school, new language, new worries at all. The LG who has limitless energy, yet still craves his quiet time.

Happy, happy birthday, Little Guy!

January 27, 2014

It's official: Granada has become our new El Hatillo...

El Hatillo was our go-to place in Caracas. Whether we had guests in town and wanted to get out without too much driving or we simply had a free Sunday and wanted to get out of the apartment, it was our place.  Maybe a 30 minute drive from Caracas, it was easily accessible and the drive was not so long that Cait's sensitive belly would get too upset.

You see, Cait used to have motion-sickness issues. Now the dear child can read The Lord of the Rings upside down and sideways in a rapidly moving vehicles. Back then? Not so much. Due to this issue, we just didn't travel too much. Even a trip to Colonia Tovar, just over 1.5 hours away, was a recipe for trouble, and trips were kept to under 45 minutes one way. I should also explain it wasn't just the ride in the car, but that the roads were not always in the best shape, side roads were very bumpy, and the roads were both curvy and hilly. Not ideal conditions for anyone, much less one prone to such illness.

So, on lazy Sundays, we would head to El Hatillo. There was a little parking lot off to the right at the entrance of the town. Really a packed dirt lot, but organized and always someone keeping an eye on the cars.  We stroll about the town, enjoy the level walking area (our neighborhood in Caracas was very hilly), walk through Bolivar park and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. We'd admire the artistry on display on the buildings and the brightly colored businesses.  No trip was complete without a stop in Hannsi.

Hannsi could be compared to the artistans market in Masaya here, but perhaps  on a slightly smaller scale. It was one shop within itself, not a compilation of many vendors under a shared roof as you will find in Masaya. Hannsi had all of the local crafts, and one could find anything within their travel trinket price range. Closing my eyes now I can still see the shop, watch a 2 year old Cait toddle around and admire the handicrafts and remind myself of the slew of guests we took the little town to enjoy a quiet day.

We are finding ourselves again having those occasional lazy Sundays. With our weeks being so hectic, and even most weekends filled with activities, we are embracing those days that we can completely call our own. We knew that we would have a whole day of free time today, and with having only Nick in the house, we figured it was time for another trip to Granada.

I'm usually too involved watching the scenery to time the trip, but I'd say it runs anywhere from 30-45 minutes one way. Traffic usually is not too much, one might only get slowed down by the occasional horse and wagon or moto taxi chugging along in front of use. The trip has us pass by Masaya (the volcano) and lots of small shops and restaurants that we note for future visits.

We eventually pull into Granada and each and every time are awed by the Colonial architecture.The colors are bright and cheerful, and even the hospital that appears to be falling apart has its own mystique while in disrepair. It is slated for rehabilitation, though I find it to be fascinating as is, covered with vines and seemingly open to the public, at least for photos, until the work begins.

Our destination depends on the day. Last Monday, an Embassy holiday, found us unable to go to our new favorite cafe, so we ended up back at Nectar, a couple of blocks from the cathedral in the center of town. We followed that up with a trip to Coco Berry Spa. I had a massage on hold from October, and combined it with a manicure and pedicure.  I normally don't stress those sort of beauty treatments but when one's entire shoe wardrobe consist of sandals and flip-flops (and the occasional running shoe), it's a nice occasional treat.

Love the interior design of every building I've seen in Granada.

Today was just a lunch and a trip to a new bakery. The cafe we wanted to visit on Monday is closed Monday and Tuesday, so we headed there for lunch today. I had heard of the cafe in the fall, but didn't have a chance to taste a sampling until the holiday fair at the Embassy. The proprietor stopped by with a few sandwiches and desserts. Peter and I shared the Mombacho ham and brie sandwich that day for lunch. The ham was so tender and slightly smoky and melded just perfectly with the brie. The bread, if memory serves, was a sundried tomato (which is only improved by being freshly out of the oven). We had visited the cafe in December before a day of last-minute Christmas shopping, and had been waiting for a day to get back.

Hanging outside Expressionista...

Today was the day. We snagged a parking space out front and entered the Expressionista  and were promptly greeted by the owner, Andres. We had the place to ourselves and set up in the rear of the cafe with a comfy couch/chair arrangement just next to the open air garden. Much of Granada is styled like this and it gives a very spacious feel to the restaurants, shops and museums. One thinks they are entering a small restaurant, and the reality is a large open space in the middle, usually filled with impressive gardens, such as in the Choco Museo, which we visited briefly in December.

Nick next to a cacao tree in the interior garden at the Choco Museo in December.

The furniture set-up in Expressionista is ecletic and comfy. Menus are written on chalkboards and include fresh organic options from Eggs Benedict to a garlic soup with scoops of fresh watermelon (there is a set menu and one that changes daily). Handcrafted brews (hard to find here) are always on the menu and today I simply had to try the vanilla ale. It went perfectly with the garlic soup, and my half of the mombacho ham and brie sandwich on freshly baked raisin and nut bread. Nick had the other half of my sandwich, and when hearing that Nick was not fond of brie, Andres styled his half with a manchego on the side (which Nick just gobbled up). Peter opted for the Boeuf Bourguignon which was amazing (at least according to my palate). Freshly-squeezed orange juice (likely from a nearby tree) accompanied their meals and I finished mine up with a latte.

While we would have loved to spend the whole day there, the girls had errands to run and would need to be picked up from their friends' house soon thereafter. We had just enough time to stop by a new bakery, Pan de Vida. We first heard about its existence when a friend mentioned that a location would be opening up soon in Managua. We only heard that there was a location in San Juan Del Sur, and didn't realize there are actually several, to include one in Granada.  We tested a few of their cookies last Monday on a brief visit, and were hooked.

Today is their "Cinnamon Bun Sunday" and one has to hope they make it into the bakery in time.  Tucked away in a small storefront on Calle de Arsenal, the bakery appears to be small on the outside, but is in fact cozy and light-filled on the inside. There is a large wood-fired stove to the left and a simple glass-fronted cabinet on the right with the day's wares. While we ended up just missing out on the cinnamon rolls, we were able to snag the last three oatmeal cookies. The baker had just taken out a few pieces of focaccia bread, so we quickly asked for two to accompany our dinner. We also learned that since they are continually baking, one can put in a request, wander around Granada for a bit and return for their baked good of choice. A whole wheat roll had just been placed in the oven, and had we had a bit more time, we would have taken that home with us.


The best news? The new Managua location is not terribly far from us here. If the store follows suit of the Granada location, there will be baking classes for children and a cinnamon roll Sunday that we will have no excuse for missing. Crusty breads will be available on a daily basis and who doesn't need a good peanut butter cookie after a long day at work?

Regardless of the closer bakery, we will still enjoy our trips to Granada. While we have seen quite a bit, we realize that we have in all likelihood merely scratched the surface on the offerings. Here's hoping we use our time wisely over the next 2.5 years and enjoy many more days there before we head out for good....


A larger than life Nativity (well, for Nick) that we happened upon in December. Notice an extra little face in there?


January 18, 2014

Today was a volcano day...

though unlike our trip to Volcan Masaya in November, we actually planned today's outing several days in advance.  We also didn't just peer into this volcano, we dove right in.

Well, waded in, jumped in, you get the picture.  Today was our first complete trip to Laguna de Apoyo.  We had visited before for the purposes of scoping it out, but hadn't actually spent an entire day there.  Oh, what we have been missing.

Today's trip was spurred on by the opening of a new beach club, Laguna Beach Club.  The owner is a friend of a friend and had a grand opening special.  For just $5 apiece (including a free drink), we could spend the day lounging in a chaise, hanging on the beach (a bit rocky, but nice shady spots), swimming in the cools waters of the lagoon, enjoying a fresh and healthy lunch courtesy of the nearby comedora or kayaking in the sizable freshwater-filled volcanic crater.  Naturally, we chose all of the above.  

We arrived just before 11 a.m. and were the first ones there.  We had no trouble finding the beach club and were impressed by the ample parking (often hard to find around the lagoon).  We were immediately greeted by the owner, and she gave us a tour of the club.  The scent of the freshly cut wood floors permeated the air as we walked.  Plenty of changing rooms, hotel rooms if one wanted to stay overnight, showers, very modern bathrooms but with local touches, such as stone sinks hand-carved and brought down from Esteli.  As one walks out of the hostel, there is a Zen garden designed by internationally recognized Japanese Feng Shui practitioner (and scientist) with a bridge over the garden that leads to the amazing view of the lagoon.

Further down the path and to the left is a small, but spacious bar where one can order breakfast, lunch or dinner from the comedora.  There is a bar for everything from Coca cola normal to caipirinas.  We each enjoyed a good-sized (but not overwhelming) meal and our tab for food came to just under $22.00.  Our bar tab for several sodas and a couple of dacquiris (virgin for the kids upon request) was just about $10.  Though of course we did not spend most of the day in the tiki hut, but in the water.

The sun was quite brilliant when we arrived, and we slathered ourselves with lotion before heading down to the water.  The beach club provides everything from kayaks to life jackets and it's all included in the entry fee.  The attendants were just that, and made sure we had all of the water toys we could use.  The kayaks were by far the best feature and although the winds were high and the waves strong, the kids were not stopped from spending hours splashing about and boating about our portion of the lagoon.  

Cait had a babysitting job waiting for her tonight, and we all have to be up early tomorrow for another local trip with friends.  We hated to do it, but finally had to drag the kids out of the water at 4 p.m. I'll not name names, but at least one parental unit in our car was so exhausted from hours of kayaking fun that she could not keep her eyes open on the ride home.


Cost for entry, food, and bar?  $51.65 plus about $2 for the entry fee to the lagoon itself.  Exhaustingly fun time had by all?  Priceless.


Did I mention the lush tropical greenery?



January 13, 2014

One of the frustrations

I have been reintroduced to lately is that of blogging overseas.  Clearly, I want to relay our experiences, however, I want to be careful to portray a balanced viewpoint. I was a bit overwhelmed when we first arrived in Managua, and constantly have to remind myself that my idea of a situation is simply that: my opinion. My viewpoint isn't necessarily shared by the person in that situation.  

Needless to say, discussions on Facebook such as who wore what to the Golden Globes or keeping your child in a rear facing car seat til age 5, are almost laughable to me.  My visions every day are so incredibly far away from that sort of world that it's really hard to balance all of my worlds sometimes and I find myself stuck and quiet.

I end up not writing as much online lest I put too much of my Stateside thinking into a post.  I've realized if I try to understand the nuances of every cultural difference, I might drive myself crazy. Instead I have to step back, observe, and simply try to figure out where I might be able to make a difference in helping and where I am just interfering by foisting my cultural mores where they don't belong. It's a very fine line.

I've decided that I will blog observations without trying to make inferences. I am not judging good or bad, merely trying to reflect what I see on a daily basis.  Otherwise, if I don't write these down, I will forget.  I will just have the glossy photos I took, but not every single image of what life is like outside of the States.  To not have that would do a tour injustice.

Yesterday we were driving to the airport in a car that was not our own.  After leaving our neighborhood, we turned onto the highway.  Almost immediately, we stopped for a red light.  Now, this is not true at all intersections, but at many here, there might be a form of entertainment, whether it be the fire juggler or a 6 year old boy tossing limes in the air.  A show of a local's talent or skill.  It is, in my opinion, risky at best, but as I wrote, I'm a visitor, not a rule maker.

The show yesterday was a variation on one I have seen before.  A mother is in the middle of the highway.  As traffic stops, she quickly runs out into the lane.  Her child, maybe age 9, nimbly climbs up her back.  A 3 or 4 year old then climbs up atop of that child, and settles upon her shoulders.  She takes two oranges and claps them together.  She smacks them in her face, upon her body, and back together again.  They are all three a bit dirt-smeared, but happy while entertaining.  Quickly, before the light changes, the children scamper down their mother's back.  They hang with the mother and run from car to car, hoping for payment for the show.

I would not have been able to open the window, had they stopped by.  However, they don't, they continue down the one lane of traffic, hoping to collect before they return to the middle of the highway to prepare for their next show.  The light changes, and we drive away, knowing it is but one of many shows we shall see during our time here.


December 30, 2013

I tend to stress about things a bit

from time to time. I take a seemingly innocent pain or pang and despite my best attempts, somehow turn it into something that it's not.  And having the ability to search anything night or day on Google doesn't help when you are trying to avoid that which has got you a wee bit scared.

About three weeks after we moved here, I began to have a crazy back pain. I chalked it up to a bad mattress (ours hadn't arrived yet, and my back just can't handle firm mattresses) and realizing the a/c was directed right on my spine. I switched sides of the bed, ordered a tempur-pedic like mattress pad, and the pain slowly started to go away. In fact, the only time it really returned would occur when I was attempting to do a back bend of sorts during yoga.

One friend wisely suggested I quit trying to do back bends (and also suggested I avoid Google...well, 1 out of 2 isn't bad) while I tried to figure out what was wrong with my back.  The pain never completely went away, but only occurred at certain times. It wasn't getting any worse, didn't prevent me from running or other exercise, but it was still there when I moved certain ways.

Finally, one day I got up the gumption to go to the health clinic. I figured given it was likely not something horrible, maybe I should figure out what it really was.  I was given a quick exam, briefly expressed my worst fears, and it was suggested I get an x-ray as that might help determine what it was.  Of course, it was assumed that I just had a back issue related to a slight scoliosis, but what exactly was it?

So, that afternoon Peter and I headed to the imaging center and for a whopping $60, I walked out with several x-rays of my lumbosacral region.  While it only took an hour, it was a stressful hour as I feared the worst.  When I was first taken back to the x-ray room, I was so freaked I didn't catch everything the technician told me.  Luckily, I quickly figured out I was supposed to change into the gown hanging on a stand.  I only screwed up once by putting it on backwards.  Well, until I tried to stand for the x-rays.

The technician told me to point at my belly button, and I did. However, he wasn't thrilled with the way he was pointing (or maybe didn't believe the location) and called Peter into translate.  That didn't change a thing, but I felt a little better on the off-chance he asked for some crazy position that would require a dictionary for me to translate the request.  As the technician ran off the first time to hide and snap the x-ray, shouting "No respire! No respire! No respire!" I just suddenly couldn't help but think of people who visited the States without having much English.  

While I understood enough of what he was saying, I could only think of those who might be in a similar situation, but not understand what was going on...or not have insurance and thus, not know how to pay for it.  He kept changing my position, running and hiding while shouting "No respire!" and I continued to think about scary medical situations in foreign lands, as it was less frightening than what I was stressing over.

Finally, after an hour, we were headed back to the Embassy.  The x-rays were reviewed and while I understood the commentary on the diagnosis sheet, it was helpful again to hear that there was likely nothing wrong with me other than old age.  However, since it was only an x-ray, there are certain things that would not show. 

The offer of an orthopedist was out there, and since visits are but $40 (yes, for a specialist), I opted to go and just get a definitive diagnosis.  A week later I found myself in his office.  I explained my basic history, he did a quick exam, and then he asked a more thorough history and I had to discuss, well, that of which I don't like to speak. Thankfully, it was a short conversation and he said he was sure nothing had anything to do with that, but an MRI would likely show exactly what was going on.

At first that seemed logical. Yes, an MRI. Of course, it will show any issues with my spine and that will be that. It wouldn't be anything too scary and then I could get going with physical therapy.  Then it hit me I better check the price of said MRI, since we have to pay out of pocket and then be reimbursed.  Then I realized that I also needed to ensure that we didn't need to precertify AND that we would absolutely be in, was the reason good enough to get reimbursed?

I set up an appointment for the day after Christmas, and a few phone calls confirmed that there would be absolutely no issue getting reimbursement for the test.  We even took names down just in case, but everything indicated it would be fine.

Finally, the 26th arrived. I'd spent the 25th halfway enjoying Christmas and halfway fearing the next morning.  I was not fearing the MRI itself, but what the results might say...and I'm not the sort of person who generally shares these fears in advance with anyone (except a few people, like Peter, poor guy). After my worst fears were realized three years ago, it's hard to believe that any test will ever fall in my favor again (the fear lingers even though I've not had an issue since).  We arrived on time, only to find there were several emergencies ahead.  

Two hours later, we were called back by a delightful technician named Edwin.  He was cheerful and chatty and loved discussing his training time in the U.S. He set me up in the machine, and 5 minutes later I was slowly being encased in the tube.  Now, I've only had two MRIs before in my life, and I guess I've been lucky enough to have the open MRIs.  I never understood the issue with claustrophobia before last week.

Now I get it.  The minute he sent me up in the tube, I started a mild freak-out. He asked if I was okay, and I lied and squeaked out a feeble, "Yes!" just so I could get the test over with.  I realized things were much better if I just closed my eyes, and managed to soothe myself into a nap of sorts.  By the time the first set of clanging came through the headphones, I  was nearly asleep.  I kept dreaming odd dreams, as one would expect, and would wake up reminding myself not to move.

Finally, much sooner than I expected, Edwin called out that the test was over and I had done very well.  Guess the twitch in my leg towards the end didn't affect anything after all.  He then stated that my resultados would be ready the next day after 12 p.m.

Despite our best efforts, we could not get an appointment with the doctor over the phone so that I could just get the review of the MRI completed.  After work on Friday, we headed straight to the imaging center. They had already shuttled the results off to the doctor.  We had a lucky moment when we headed up to the office and one of the few secretaries in the office was his.  She managed to get an appointment for Saturday a.m., and we headed home so I could stress some more and Google more nefarious diagnoses.

Saturday morning came and we had back and forth with Nick as to whether he'd go with us or stay home with the sissas.  I was so nervous, I didn't care which, but realize if something was really wrong, I'd prefer he not be there.  He ended up opting to stay home and we hurried to the hospital. The doctor wasn't quite there yet, but arrived quickly after his secretary called him.

We sat in the office and he started reviewing the MRI charts.  I did the worst possible thing of trying to look at them at the same time and silently freaked out, even though nothing (to my not-so-knowledgeable eyes) appeared askance.  Well, not in the way that I fearedc.

Finally, as the doctor was reviewing the films with us and going over the physical therapy I should start (for being, well, for lack of better terms, old and fat), I said something like, "So, there's nothing weird in there?"

He then said, "Oh, no, there are at least 3 weird things here!" and started showing me the areas that were not in such fabulous shape.

Peter then finally broke into the conversation and said, "No, she means there's no...(insert scary word here)!"

The doctor just looked, shook his head and sort of laughed.  "No, no, no, nothing like that!"

And there we have it. I'm old, need to lose weight (duh, but since I'm still having pulled muscles from last summer's surgery, insanely vigorous exercise is not terribly easy), and I have a bad back.  I'll start (inexpensive, I'm sure) PT soon, make sure I spend half my lunch hour at work doing something active, take up tennis again, get more massages,  and will soon (two weeks, maybe?) be able to swim on a daily basis in my own backyard.

More importantly, I haven't Googled anything in the past 24 hours...well, anything medical that is. Now if I can just keep that up for a very, very, very long time.

December 24, 2013

Christmas Spirit

Last night, as I was wrapping gifts, I remembered that Nick did not have anything specifically for Kelsey. Sure, he could add his name to our gifts, but it's always nice to have a little something from him.  I somehow completely blanked on shopping, and while it would have been ideal for him to find something at the holiday fair, I didn't think about it until it was over.

Today as I was working in the office, he popped in with a wrapped gift and said, "Look! I'm giving this to Kelsey!" He had found something of his he thought she would like (I'd said nothing at this point), went into my room, and covered it with bits and pieces of leftover wrapping paper (those scraps always come in handy).  He taped it up, and brought it into me to ask for help with the card.

I folded the paper for him and he wrote out the card, taped it to the gift, and put it under the tree.  I know what he gave her (no worries, nothing living), but won't spoil the surprise.  I can't wait to see the look on her face tomorrow, as it's interestingly enough, not terribly different from her gift to him (already wrapped, under the tree, and sparking many questions from Nick).



How I love the creativity this time of year inspires...

December 21, 2013

Nothing says Christmas like

a real tree.  The beauty of nature in one's living room, even with the occasional shedding of pine needles, has no comparison.  I vowed early on that I would always have a real tree for Christmas, no matter what.  There was nothing like walking into a house with a real tree that just imparted the Christmas feeling.

We have only broken that vow once, when we acquired a tree from the base in Reykjavik for Christmas 2005.  It was last-minute, and as I was terribly sick and grief-stricken, my only thoughts were of not really wanting to deal with Christmas either way.  In addition to being a 110 tree in a 220 country, it was a pain in the rear to put together and take down.  It just screamed "fake tree" and we donated that sucker as soon as we remembered to take it down in February.

We deliberately did not bring an artificial tree to post with us, as we figured either we would A. find a real tree somehow, B. travel locally for Christmas and not bother, or C. if truly desperate, buy an artificial, but only a used one.  Artificial trees just have so many chemicals in them that make them flame-retardant, that I really don't want one around unless we are truly desperate.  Even then, I'm thinking we'd just do without or find some kind of real alternative.

Luck was with us and we learned in the early fall that our favorite organic market sells trees each year.  We had to wait for our tree stand to arrive, but we are not early tree people anyway.  The stand arrived this week, and when we went to pick out a tree, we learned a fresh batch would be in by Friday.

Last night, we headed over to the market.  The actual tree saleseman was not there, but we were able to put a hold on our favorite tree to be picked up today.  It was not too large or heavy, and looked like it would fit perfectly in the back of the car.  Peter and I enjoyed a leisurely dessert (is there anything better than passion fruit mousse?) and glass of wine and then headed home.  

While we all all would have loved to return to pick up the tree, it's a good thing we didn't.  It barely fit in the car with only Nick and Peter inside.  I was woken up by Nick upon their return, "Hurry, mommy, hurry, you've got to see what we did," and surprised by the tree being perfectly set up in our living room.

Normally, we always put non-Santa gifts under the tree as soon as they are wrapped. However, the kitten has already scaled the tree once, and declared war on the pine cones in a table we will have to see.

A few hours and only one collapse later (turns out Peter had forgotten to lock something), the tree is up, lit, and fully decorated.  The scent of pine is filling the air, the needles that fall can be swept outside, and when all is said and done and the 12 days of Christmas are over, the tree will be properly composted.

I don't know that we will spend Christmas at home each year while posted here, but 'tis so lovely to know that while we are here we do have the real option....

December 19, 2013

Call us medical

expats, if you will.  Or, really, dental/orthodontic expats would be more accurate.  We didn't bid on Managua knowing how inexpensive, yet good, the dental care would be, but it's definitely something we will keep in mind for future bidding.

We've known for a while that at least two of our three children would need braces at some point in time.  Kelsey still has a wee bit of time, where as Caitlin was nearly over due by the time we moved here.  She was close (but not quite ready) in California.

Then we moved to Virginia, Peter went to Iraq, all you-know-what broke loose, he came back and that was the end of that.  I was lucky to get the kids to the dentist (which nearly required valium for me, as it turned out Nick liked the dentist even less than the lady who cut his hair), and I completely forgot about things like well check-ups and such.  Thank goodness the kids have immune systems like rocks from all of that rolling in the dirt and such.  The dentist we finally stuck with (Nick finally liked) noted that Cait was finally ready for braces some time during our second year in VA. This was all well and good, however, braces are notoriously expensive.  When you are still recovering from a year of lost extra income and dealing with unexpected medical issues, braces aren't something you want to think about.

We did have dental insurance, but had not yet come close enough to being able to use the orthodontic portion (and, of course, now they've cut the waiting period in half), and FSBP only covers so much.  Then we started to think about the possibility that we might have to wait, no matter what, as we knew we would be moving and that any work on Cait would take at least 2, if not 3, years...time we no longer had in Virginia.

We ended up finding a great local orthodontist in Falls Church.  Cait went to see him twice for thorough exams and just as I was trying to calculate exactly how much we would have to lay out for braces, the doctor came to the conclusion that while it wasn't spectacularly ideal, it would be far better to wait until our arrival in Managua.  We could have one doctor see Cait through the whole deal, and we had started to research the issue and noted that prices seemed to be a bit lower.

Now that we are here, I can say "a bit" doesn't cover it.  Without even submitting our claims to our regular insurance company, our maximum yearly dental exam bill (2 times a year x 5 people) would be $300/year.  Subtract out the insurance paid, and it will run us about $60/year out of pocket (which will be paid from our health FSA).  

Given that we were so close to being to the end of the waiting period, we opted to start Cait with the orthodontia.  We then asked the price and without batting an eye, the dentist said, "$1600.  You pay $300 down and then $54/month for 24 months."  I repeated the information back to her with a stunned look and she had the look of understanding.  She knew we were used to the higher prices in the States, and like many, were surprised that something like this could be so affordable without insurance.

Then I started thinking about the dental insurance we had planned on keeping.  I did the math and realized that we would pay more in premiums over one year, than we would for Cait's braces (paid over two).  Additionally, our regular health insurance will cover the cost of the first $1000 of Cait's orthodontia.  In the end, we will owe $600 out of pocket, all of which will likely be paid from our FSA.

It didn't take long for us to realize that given it was open season, we needed to make a few decisions.  After taking another long, hard look at the numbers, we opted out of dental insurance for next year and likely won't think about it again until we go back to the States (and even then, we will have to really run the numbers).  And the irony of something so basic (good dental and orthodontia) being so reasonably priced, is not lost on me.  As much as we think of the U.S. as being so advanced, they have a lot to learn about reasonable pricing for medical care, as well as dental.  Even a recent trip to the ER (an hour long visit) only ran $69 (which is less than our co-insurance payment in the U.S.).  

After we received the quote, we set up a visit with the orthodontist.  He did a tiny bit of preliminary work two weeks ago, and then today was the big day:  the braces.  I figured Cait didn't need me pacing in the waiting room, so I grabbed lunch across the street.  Thirty minutes later I returned, and 5 minutes after that, she was completely ready to go.  I knew it would be fast, but that was ridiculous.

During that last 5 minutes, I signed the paperwork, paid the cash down payment, and received the receipt that, when we returned home,  I promptly filed online with our insurance.  We will go back (for now) monthly, have the braces checked, and pay the $54 fee, providing there is nothing to be fixed (broken brackets, etc.).  She's not entirely thrilled, but we are ecstatic, knowing that instead of stressing about paying (egad) I don't know how much for braces, that money will instead be put in other savings accounts.  Her teeth will be nearly perfect, and our wallets still intact thanks to the low cost and being able to save $1600 plus a year on dental insurance.  And we are also thinking that Kelsey should be ready soon, so might as well take that plunge, too, while we are here...


A rare photo of Cait smiling with the new jewels. The photo cost me a chocolate muffin, but worth it for the smile.



December 08, 2013

I'm not a Black Friday kind

of gal. The idea of getting up any earlier than I absolutely must to buy stuff I don't need at prices lower than regular price just does not appeal to me.  Even if we were in the States, I can't imagine wanting to stand in lines like that (or deal with such crowds) for any reason.  And when you are living in a developing country, you quickly learn to redefine "need."

We might want a grill for our outdoor patio, but let's face it, that's a want.  Our kids might each want their own iPad (an example, no one has yet asked), but that's so not going to happen, since they each already have computer access when they need it.  I want new cookware, but other than one particular pan, do we really *need* it? No.

Hence, I find the race each year to the stores to be entertaining at best.  Quite honestly, I don't even know what people could want to buy. We had Black Friday sales here (which lasted all weekend), which I found to be just bizarre.  If anything, seeing the spread of the idea is just depressing. Then there is the whole Cyber Monday idea and the shopping just never ends.  Occasional shopping I certainly understand, but this manic-crazed thing is just not my cup of tea.

Instead of making me feel better about the approaching holidays, it's just seems rather sad to me. I'm reminded of my mom, who was so good about buying gifts all year round, really finding unique items that people wanted, catching every hint, and then squirelling things away until it was time to start wrapping.  She thrived on real craft fairs (hand crafted wooden items, pottery that had been lovingly shaped, glazed, and fired, and the like), and managed to find exactly what folks wanted and needed.  Oh, sure, she still shopped traditional stores when need be, but took her time and still managed to find the perfect gift for everyone, even the year she died.

To give myself credit, I tried.  However, after she died, Christmas lost a lot of its luster.  To this day, I still randomly find myself in a market thinking, "Oh, that would be perfect for Mom!" and then it hits me 5 seconds later that it just doesn't matter. After a few years, I finally started to get back into enjoying the holidays, until fall 2010 hit.  Christmas again took a blow, as it's very hard to enjoy when you are in the midst of recovering from something you shouldn't have to deal with, ever.

Each year has gotten a bit better, but even with Peter home last year, it was still stressful as he was absent during so much of the 'prep' time.  I found myself doing  a lot of last-minute shopping (which I loathe) and vowed it would be different this year. 

Unfortunately, this year I've been thrown off by a new schedule and a lack of seasonal changes.  The schedule I can deal with, but the lack of seasons just throws me off.  While it's nice to know that we may be able to swim outside on Christmas afternoon, it's hard to get into the mood hearing Feliz Navidad in the stores while I'm wearing shorts and Tevas.

Then last Friday rolled was the much-anticipated holiday fair that was put on in the Embassy by my office.  I can officially say that as long as I have this fair to look forward to each year, I will have no problem getting myself psyched up for the holidays.  We had such an amazing range of vendors, from local smokehouses to those who made adorable hair baubles for wee ones to absolutely amazing handcrafted wooden creations.

Finally, gifts that I know cannot be duplicated, and not only would they not break my wallet, they would help fill someone else's.  From the father/son duo making the wooden salad bowls that would run close to $100 in the States, to the handmade pine needle baskets, we had so much choice.  Suddenly, I was not only glad that had brought my shopping basket, but wished I'd thought to bring a few more reusable grocery bags.

Here are just a few of the samples from the day...and just think, if you visit, I'm sure we can arrange for you to meet with any one of the vendors, should it not be fair time.

Teachers' gifts, homemade marshmallows, and a pine needle basket from Fabretto.


Handcrafted leather purses. Think similar to Coach, but with one third of the price tag.

I misunderstood the propietor at first and thought he said, a pair of hand-carved earrings would be $50. Nope, 50 Cordobas (local currency), which equals $2.
Hand-made barrettes and headbands...utterly adorable!


The paintings and designs were all created by children with disabilities and are available for sale year-round at a local children's hair cuttery.
More leather goods...
We might have purchased a set of salad bowls...
Pine needle baskets made by women in the Pinos Fabrettinos initiative.
Nica HOPE jewelry is made by children who benefit from Fabretto's programs. You can read about some of the artisans here.

If you are enchanted by either the jewelry or the pine needle baskets/coffee, you can see more online and purchase from Fabretto!  Click here and you can see all of the items available for purchase.  Oh, and, yes, we might have been a bit selfish...we did buy ourselves an early Christmas gift, but at $38 for the whole set, just couldn't pass it up.



Christmas shopping that gives in several directions and far more directly to those who need it.  Unique items that can't be found elsewhere...did I mention we also have a spring fair?  Just saying....


November 28, 2013

The pie is cooling

on the wire rack on the counter, while the turkey in the fridge is well into its brining cycle.  I have a schedule for cooking tomorrow so that the green bean casserole, cranberry compote, turkey, and stuffing are all the appropriate temperature when served at dinner tomorrow afternoon and I will theoretically somehow fit in a 3 mile walk.  All in all, it's shaping up to be a relatively normal Thanksgiving dinner. That in and of itself is a treat.

The past few years have been challenging.  We had the weird Thanksgiving in 2010 (courtesy of me), the following year was tricky, as we were already looking ahead to Peter's departure and knowing we'd be apart for Thanksgiving 2012.   Then Thanksgiving 2012 rolled around and I realized I was still carrying a lot of stress from the past few years.  And this year?

Finally, we are together as a family.  We are happily ensconced in our new home and have no desire to travel over the holidays (especially considering Friday is a workday for us).  We have the ability to procure our favorite Thanksgiving dishes, and interestingly enough, it's not an unknown holiday here. The kids' school held special celebrations in the lower grades, though the turkey was substituted with local fried chicken.  

The best part of being here is that  we don't have to stress about the craziness of Black Friday, work or no work.  We can simply have a day off today and won't have to fret about insane traffic on Friday (well, any more so than normal).  Lovely!

For all of that and so much more, we are grateful.  Finally, after a long three years we are in a happy place again, and it is just feels so good. Here's hoping wherever you are and however you celebrate, that the day will be just as you wish it to be.

Happy Thanksgiving! 








November 23, 2013

Sometimes you wake up

and realize you want to go to a volcano right now.  It's the weekend, you have nothing planned, there is one 20 minutes down the road, and you want to go see what it's all about.  The beauty of living in Managua is that we can do just that on a moment's notice.

Our trip to Somoto Canyon last week reminded us that we need to get out and do things while we can. Sometimes we get caught up in work and life and forget that our time here is limited.  Last night we discussed a brief visit to the volcano today and it was agreed we would all head out in the morning.

Or afternoon, as the case may be when it takes over an hour just to wake up the teenager.  However, given it was a lazy day, we didn't have to stress about meeting anyone at a certain time or worry about being home for anything this evening.  We sussed out restaurants near the volcano and figured we would have a nice local lunch before our hike, however brief or long.


The one issue we have here is finding actual directions to places.  Addresses as we know them really don't exist.  Most addresses are in relation to a monument or landmark (said landmark does not need to be in existence now, which can be tricky for newcomers).  So, we had a bit of a hard time finding our lunch destination.  It was supposed to be kilometer 13.5 on the highway, however, it didn't state which side.  Even more confusingly, the actual map on Trip Advisor pointed to a completely different area.  We drove around for a while, eventually found another restaurant that happened to overlook Laguna de Masaya, and made us even more eager to make our way to the top of the crater.



After lunch, we found the entrance to Masaya fairly easily (it's right on Carretera Masaya, how's that for directions!) and proceeded to go in. Unfortunately, we were stopped at the beginning, as nowhere did we read that the entrance cost was 100 Cordobas per person (everything we found simply said 100 Cordobas, and we assumed per car...nope).  Luckily, our friend ATM saved everything and we were back at the entrance 10 minutes later.  We paid just over 20 USD, and made our way inside.

We could have stopped at the grand and rambling visitors center (one of the nicest we've seen here), but opted to go straight to the top.  We knew we were not in danger of visiting only once, and given this was more of a visit to scope out what we could do, we kept driving.  The first leg was very lush and green, but that quickly gave way to wide open fields.  Wide open lava fields, which excited all of us to no end since that quickly took us back to our time in Iceland.


 After a 4 kilometer ride, we reached the parking area.  We stopped, noted the cowboy up on the hill, and headed over to the crater.  It was a bit, er, smoky, so the view we had changed frequently as the wind shifted. IMG_6018

I think, though, despite our late start, it was a perfect day to see a bit of what the area had to offer.


Like Iceland, Nicaragua can be very "at your own risk." This does not bother us, as the views are unobstructed by fences and such.  A little common sense, of course, in such areas, goes a long way.



 Lava rocks were most definitely made for climbing, at least according to the little guy....


The cross in the above photo is from a baptism the volcano received in the 16th century.  Due to its frequent eruptions, the volcano was feared by Spanish settlers and indigenous peoples alike. The baptism was held in the hopes that the devil could be removed from the volcano. Just for the record, the exorcism didn't 'take'...

IMG_6032 This view randomly reminded us of Iceland. Perhaps just due to the vast open plain and knowing that the growth was just barely concealing fields and fields of black lava.


A certain someone admitted once at the top of the volcano, that she was very glad to have made the trip.


It's not a day til you are completely and happily covered in the dust from 300 year old lava rocks.


No worries, none of us slipped off the ledge.  However, we are sufficiently intrigued and we will likely return many times.  We are hoping to make a visit over Thanksgiving break in order to take the tour of the bat caves,  will return another time to hike Sendero Los Coyotes (a roundtrip hike from the visitor center to the Lagoon), and last, but not least, we will go back up to the crater and hire a guide to take us up further on horses.  Many of the trails require guides, and given our good experiences with them thus far in Nicaragua, I'm happy to hire someone who truly knows the lay of the land.  Now, what to do tomorrow....



November 18, 2013

I realized yesterday

that never in my wildest dreams as a child, could I have projected to what my life has become.  I was a bit shy and retiring,  a likely perfect definition of a wallflower.  And not that much has changed for me personality-wise, but lifestyle, oh, yes.  I dreamed of travel as a child.  I dreamed of living in exotic locales, where it was winter all year long, summer all year long, seasons reversed or the same, with the exception of everyone speaking a marvelously different language.  Moreoever, I wanted my children to have that same opportunity.

I wanted them growing up and knowing the world.  To hear the pride in my son's voice when he reminds people he was born in Iceland, yet he knows that his heritage is American.  To see my daughter's friends span the globe.  They may live in however many different countries, but they share the same angsts and joys in life, no matter where their roots are for the moment.  Perhaps the best was watching Kelsey jump off a rock into the water in the middle of canyon in northern Nicaragua.  No fear, just following her friends with sheer excitement about the opportunities life gives us. 

There's my wee nugget, jumping fearlessly....

To say yesterday was another "this is why we moved to Nicaragua" moment would be an understatement.  As part of my position at the Embassy, Co-Community Liaison Coordinator, I planned to a trip to Somoto Canyon, which is so far north, it practically touches Honduras.  I was a bit nervous, having never actually made the trek before, and no idea what to expect.  I can only say it was so much more than I could have imagined.

Somoto Canyon is actually a fairly new tourist attraction, having really only opened to the public in 2004.  Given that it appeared to be a 3 hour drive (in reality, have 4 good hours each way without stops), and that I was planning for what could be a large group, I wanted something fairly inclusive.  Guides and lunch would be the plan, given that none of us had been before, and every review of the tours indicated that even the most-prepared hikes benefited from someone who really 'knew' the canyon.

I Googled and researched like crazy, and hit upon review after review of the Soriano family guide group on Trip Advisor.  Lo and behold, not only were the reviews stellar, but they had a website!  Pictures, tour descriptions, and confirmation that one could have inclusive tours that included guides, safety equipment, lunch and the like.  I sent off an email and a day later, I was sold.

I heard back from Brian, who runs the set-up of the tours and received more information than I knew what to do with.  Actually, thanks to him,  I now have a lovely 4 page .PDF with all of the info one needs for a trip to the area, to include directions, local hotel listings, and a food menu.  I was still a bit worried, as $25/person seemed like quite a bit (factoring in the drive there and such), until he mentioned the words "group discount."

Within days, we had a group set, and being the most thoughtful organizer that he is, Brian allowed us to run two tours concurrently.  For those who had younger children or simply didn't want the standard tour, he offered that they could do the shorter tour.  It's not quite the same hike, and you utilize inner tubes to float up to a pool of the canyon where the younger set can do small, fun jumps without the fear of scrambling up wet rock and then staring down a meter...or 20?

After a frantic week of planning (I had just finished up another major event at the Embassy on Friday), Saturday morning arrived suddenly.  We* packed up as much gear as we thought we needed based on my communications with Brian.  I still was not entirely sure how wet we would get (very!), or whether we needed good shoes for the walk and float (Tevas/Keens are best).  One minutes I worried that I was wearing shorts for the hike, however once it started, I was grateful I had left the longer pants at home.

We were able to secure a shuttle at the last minute, and for our group, that was likely best. For those who have fewer numbers in their tour, I would recommend driving up the night before and staying in Somoto (or at the Hacienda). Then you need only wake up and walk/drive to the hacienda near the entrance to the canyon. No worries about getting up at the crack of dawn, or who has to drive four hours in a row.

We met up with Brian, who runs the actual planning, and Henry, whose family runs the guide company, just outside the family's hacienda.  Once we were all set for the ride to the canyon (swimsuits on, check, shorts and t-shirts that can get wet, good hiking/water shoes, sunscreen applied & full water bottles), we re-boarded the bus and drove a kilometer up to the entrance.

Sadly, I've misplaced my Garmin, so I'm only guessing, but the hike from where we stopped along the Pan-American Highway must have been close to 2 kilometers (the total trip maybe 4-6?).  The path started off rocky, turned into fields and eventually ended in a long winding trip down to the water that was extremely muddy and fast at times.  One minute we were stopped to view the canyon below us, with Honduras mere kilometers away, the next minute we were back on the path, sometimes skipping down slightly slick rocks, other times carefully putting one foot in front of the other.  We hugged the side of the rock with one arm, and without an iota of embarrassment, held the carefully proffered hand of the guide in the other.

Not just one guide, but three, in addition to Brian.  It is a family business run by Henry Soriano, and he and his cousins were our guides.  I would not go through the canyon again without them.  They knew instinctively when we needed help, when we didn't, and were there in a heartbeat if we made the mistake of stepping down into the water and putting all of our weight on the rock that was just a wee bit too slippery.

Just before we descended to the water...
After our first leg of floating down the river...

Before we knew it, we had managed to get down to the beginning of the float down the canyon.  We all had been given life vests, and tightened them before we made the final few steps down to the water.  There was a natural water slide down one rock and before we knew it, we were sliding down into the shockingly cool (but welcomingly so after the hike) water.  The next two (I'm guessing) two hours were spent floating, climbing out of the water, posing for pictures as we jumped, flipped, swam, floated some more and made our way down the canyon.

 A view up the canyon:  spots of color on the rocks (mid-photo) are clothes drying in the sun, after being washed by local women in the river

On one hand, I wish I could describe every moment in detail. On the other hand, it was such an overwhelming experience that I would do a disservice to tell you every single thing, as you may think it's an experience not for you or you need only live vicariously through my words.  To watch my 5 year old proudly lead the floating pack down the river, to see my 11 year old scramble up rocks and insist on jumping off with no pause or hesitation...or watching my husband do higher than normal jumps as he knew the kids would always remember his fearlessness more than their own.  And to see our entire group have the same awesome experience was exhilarating.

I could go on and on.  The follow-up hike, having my best only Spanish conversation yet with one of the guides who didn't speak English.  The meal (fresh veggies, handmade corn tortillas...), the welcoming feeling at the hacienda as though we were family. Did I mention the video and photo montage Brian put together for us?  He even caught one of Kelsey's jumps on video! By the time we left, and I was hugging Henry good-bye, I could not believe the small price we had paid for a day that we will likely remember for the rest of our lives.  Well, that is until we return, as we have decided that we might need to visit at least every 6 months.  

I can only say that Nicaragua has really started to tug at my heartstrings.  And while I can't wait to return to Somoto Canyon,  I have a feeling Nica has so much more in store for us. Do we really only have two and a half years left? 


*If you are wondering, Cait was sick and missed the outing, but no worries, she will go next time!  

For more information about the tours, please contact Brian T. or Henry Soriano at Somoto Canyon Tours.  They will assist you with the planning, and have advice on everything from hotels to haciendas (you can also stay with local families) and which tour is best.  I just can't recommend them enough.

November 10, 2013

The 238th Birthday Ball

for the Marines at post was held last night.  If you are my friend on Facebook or in a group with me, you have likely read about my stressing over dresses for said event.

For a variety of reasons, it has been years since I have really had to dress up for an event.  Not that I don't like to get gussied up, but I simply haven't had to do so.  Comfort is also an issue for me, as high heels generally don't get along with my feet and given that it's hard to find clothes to match my body type, I could spend hours trying to find something that fits just right.

As much as I was excited for the ball, by early September, I was completely over trying to find a gown. I could not try on any dresses prior to leaving the States, as either I had not had the abdominal surgery (which changed my clothing size) or I was still in pain and swollen from it.  I figured I would order a dress once we arrived at post and that would be that.

July flew into August, August became September and suddenly I was worried about how many dresses I would have to order from and in what sizes.  One size in one brand would be a different in another.   I found a few cute dresses and then finally threw in the towel and told Peter he'd have to go without me.  Well, that did it.

I was informed in no uncertain terms that I was going to the ball and it would be in the dress of my dreams.  I then responded that if he expected me to go to the ball, he'd have to find the dress.  As it happened, Peter was prepping for a week long conference in the VA area and he took me up on the challenge.  He took my measurements, approximate dress size, colors that would be acceptable and basic styles to Nordstrom with him one night in mid-September.  After looking around at dresses, and consulting with an adviser, he sent me two photos.  One dress was navy, one was black.  I looked at the black dress, realized he had picked a dress I'd been admiring online (unbeknownst to him), and told him it was okay to purchase.

Four nights later, he came home with a suitcase stuffed to the gills with bacon, cheese, coffee, bath goodies, and 'the' dress.  I waited until the kids were asleep that night, and then looked at it, trying to decide if I should try it on or wait.  What if it didn't fit?  What if the look was wrong?  What if....

I slipped out of my clothes, and carefully took the dress off the hanger.  I started to slip it on, went into Cait's room to look into her longer mirror and realized everything was off.  The back lacy area was extremely loose and everything from my chest to my waist was bunched together. I reached up, tugged a bit, and realize the interior slip had gotten stuck and it threw everything off.  I pulled it down, and...perfection.

The dress fit like a glove even without my Higher Power Spanx that I would eventually purchase in order to avoid any last minute worries about panty lines and such.  I couldn't believe it, yet at the same time, I realized that perhaps 16 years or so of marriage has a few learn a person's style, you know their sizes, and you know what will fly and what won't.  With this one, he hit a home run.

Now, mind you, this did not mean that I did not have to stress about shoes, jewelry, make-up and the like.  I kept forgetting how quickly time would fly, and before I knew it, the ball was within two weeks.  I rapidly ordered the Spanx a friend recommended, picked out a pair of shoes from Zappos that looked comfy, but cute, made mani/pedi appointments for myself and Caitlin, and the day of the ball, managed to schedule make-up and hair at quite the last minute.

I had found the Beauty Lounge last summer on a friend's recommendation. The owner had mentioned how she personally creates her own natural make-up line and I kept thinking back to that as the ball neared. I realized I would rather someone else give it a go, lest I end up looking pale and wan in each photo.

While her nail technicians took care of my hands and feet in the morning, the makeup stylist took care of my hair and makeup in the afternoon.  An hour after my arrival, and my hair was carefully pulled back and pinned with two gorgeous flower pins.  My skin was no longer of its normal pallor, but now glowing and I believe it's safe to say my eyes popped out a bit.  With only two hours remaining until ball time, I headed home to dress.

Since I was wearing a cute pair of dressy sandals, I donned my dress, the shoes, a favorite pair of earrings that I inherited from my mom, and I was ready.  We left, in a rainstorm of course, and headed to the Intercontinental, where the ball was held.



I could not have picked a more perfect dress myself....

The night was amazing.  Due to the nature of Peter's job, we were at the head table and it was just a lovely experience. Given all the Marines do for  us, it was an honor to attend the ball, enjoy dinner with them, and then spend hours dancing, mingling, taking photos, and just relaxing. And now that I've gotten through the first ball of our Managua tour without too much stress, I think it's safe to say I already have ideas for next year's dress.  Perhaps I'll be up to picking it out myself, but if not, comforting to know I have a back-up stylist just in case....



Cait's first ball, and she managed to pick out her own dress. One minor alteration (easy and inexpensive here) and it was perfect!

and my favorite photo....



October 30, 2013

Selva Negra

Our first outing actually occurred a few weeks ago, which is nothing short of a minor miracle.  Normally we arrive at post, end up having too much settling in to do, come to the conclusion we can't drive up a hill without a child getting sick (Caracas), or realize that overnight travel within said country is expensive and we have a worn-out traveler (Iceland).

We had no luck traveling much of anywhere in Caracas other than for day trips. We spent so much time on the side of the road with Cait (who has now since outgrown the affliction) and we pretty much gave up after our day trip to Colonia Tovar (poor thing still can't look at strawberries).  Then Peter had three years of constant travel and he viewed moving to Iceland as a vacation in and of itself.  

While the rest of us had ants in our pants about traveling, Peter was thrilled to have nowhere to go other than work and the occasional meeting at the base.  After watching Love Actually with him, and hearing him comment "Oh, that really does look like the inside of 10 Downing Street!" or listening to  him give a play-by-play of events most people only heard about on the radio, I was ready for travel. However, the travel/work/schedule gods conspired against us and we had all of two overnight trips while in the country.

Enter our move to Nicaragua: I refused to move here without a notarized statement that we would travel no matter what.  Certainly he did not do much in Kabul, we didn't go crazy our last year in the States, and since none of the kids have sickness issues, we were homefree right?

Well, for the most part.  We were desperate to go somewhere, anywhere, this summer, but did not have a car.  (Please, do not even suggest that we should have rented one.  Driving my own car here makes me nervous, and a rented car simply would have sat in the driveway.)  Then school started, I started working, and all of that free time started to disappear.  We kept thinking about days away, then nixing it due to things that came up. Finally, a friend suggested Selva Negra for Indigenous Peoples Day weekend. 

We realized we couldn't spend the whole weekend, only a night, as the kids had school on Monday (and driving up Friday night was a no-go), but we forged ahead with planning.  And so very glad we did.  

Selva Negra is a unique coffee farm and resort in the mountains of Matagalpa originally established by German settlers, and if I may say, more of what I expected to see in Nicaragua.  It is roughly a 3 hour drive (I would allow 4), much of it on a two lane highway, and one can easily be slowed down by tuk-tuks or the ever present horse and wagon.  Scenic, yes, but still something to consider when planning trips or travels.


Rooftops reminiscent of cottages in Iceland....

If this isn't a giant reminder to relax....

We drove up early Saturday morning and considering the twisting and turning it took to get into Selva Negra, I am very glad we opted to drive during the day.  It gets dark here very early (6 p.m. at the latest), year-round, and you really don't want to drive on unpaved roads in the dark me and your car will thank you.  We finally entered the estate itself by a small guarded gate. There were not many signs, but we finally found a sizable (by local standards) parking area that was across from the office.  We parked, stepped out of the car and...


we were amazed. It was at least a 20 degree, if not 30 degree, difference between Managua and Selva Negra.  The gardens were lush and green and designed around recycled materials.  One lettuce garden utilized glass bottles as mini-greenhouses and the entire area just felt so relaxed and safe.  We checked in, received the key to our bungalow (two beds, one bath, & an extra cot ran $105 plus IVA for the night), and opted for a lakeside lunch.  



Good times...

We began to feel as the owners had designed the lodge for families that needed that feeling of being able to wander without worrying.  A playground was built right next to the lodge, sizeable and fun for all of the kids, and they could wander freely with no worries about traffic or safety.  The air was so clean, the environment so calm, and the food good (mostly organic, too).  From the local coffee to the Hibiscus juice, nothing that I wouldn't try again.


We planned on spending the weekend with friends, and they arrived soon after lunch was over.  We decided it was the perfect time for a hike (as after dark would have been tricky) and set off on a 2 kilometer hike through the cloud forest.  While I wish I'd thought to bring my hiking boots (turned out Pete had grabbed his, not mine, as I thought), it was certainly doable in sneakers (but very muddy, so closed-toe shoes definitely recommended). And while 2 kilometers may not sound like much, it was very hilly, lots of slick and muddy areas, and especially disconcerting when halfway through the LG decides he has to go to the bathroom that minute.

Leaves are very, very big here...

We survived, of course, and followed up the hike with drinks and then dinner by the lake (pretty much the only place to eat...and that was fine by us).  Dessert was amazing and I highly recommend the mocha cheesecake.  While Peter and I retired to the bungalow to put the LG to bed (poor guy fell asleep sitting up on the couch), the girls spent hours carousing outside and in with their friends.



Solar power heated water...

The next morning brought breakfast by the lake and an early departure for us.  Nick had a birthday party he couldn't miss (the 5th in 10 days), and he simply couldn't miss it. Kelsey stayed behind to enjoy a bit of horseback riding, and then drove home in her friend's car. It wasn't the longest of overnights, but so good to get out of the city, and a place we can see ourselves returning to many times.  They also plan events centered around holidays, to include a Halloween/Oktoberfest celebration the following weekend.  If you have flexibility in your travels, always worth it to check out what might be happening during your visit.  Oh, and bring your long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and jacket.  You won't need them in Managua, but a visit to Selva Negra is not complete without them...


October 17, 2013

It's like Christmas!

Perhaps because nearly every box in our house is labeled "X-mas," or maybe because we keep finding unexpected 'gifts' in our boxes.  If you are curious, yes, our household effects arrived today and we are mighty stoked.

At the not-so-crack of dawn, a moving truck of appropriate size pulled up, out jumped 6 guys, and within minutes we were staring at 6 very large, very full, wooden crates with Peter's name plastered all over them.  It started out very nicely, with Peter directing boxes hither and yon, basing directions on box labels (note to selves:  when you have two girls, label boxes accordingly, not just "girl's room").  I happily attacked Scramble on the couch, as the whole answering the door thing just tuckered me out. 

Then I realized if I didn't start unpacking, someone else might, and everything might really turn upside-down then.  I started with the easy stuff, boxes labeled "X-Mas."  I am so excited, as we finally have a dedicated holiday item closet near our bedroom.  I couldn't wait to line all of the Easter, Halloween, and Christmas items neatly up on the shelves, and started ripping off the brown paper covering the boxes of decor.

Apparently, however, in some areas, X-mas also means pool toys.  Books can also be X-Mas, as well as anything related to other holidays, towels, sheets, you name it.  However, pool toys are good, as they can go right out on the terrace where they will soon have their own storage bin while they wait...



Speaking of the terrace, look what else arrived!  We have the sweetest little private road where Nick can happily ride and scooter for hours.  Don't think it took him more than 10 minutes to get his helmet on and get going once he got off the bus.  

And perhaps better than the bike or at least excitement nearly on the same level?

Oh, yes, the trampoline! Our backyard paradise is now 1/4 complete...just need to get the playhouse built, the garden started, and maybe one more addition.


Want one?!

Naturally, we found a few things that maybe shouldn't have been packed...but would moving be as much fun if we always remembered to empty the sugar bowl and remind the movers not to pack opened bags of buggy-like looking wild rice? I think not.

And now for a rest in my own bed, the first I have had since May 29th...ah, life is good!




October 10, 2013

Catarina began with a bang, and ended with several

whimpers.  We headed out with 4 of us on Sunday to visit this town that is fabled to have an abundance of gardens and nurseries, as well as a majestic view of Laguna de Apoyo.  While technically only 30 minutes from our house, it probably took a good 45 between the time on the highway and once we turned off onto the road to Catarina. The highway is officially a highway, but speeds race from horse and wagon to frustrated driver in a race car;  how fast you can travel depends on which one is in front of you.

We traveled as we tend to do here, which is to go in a general direction and look for signs.  Peter then inputs the coordinates of the location into the GPS for a return trip (occasionally he has in advance), but for those less skilled in that arena, or on vacation, one can simply turn where it says "Catarina" on the highway and soon arrive in the small town that winds uphill.  

Like many towns here that we have explored, the roads appear to the be the size of a one way road in the States, but manage to have cars, as well as tuk-tuks and large trucks going in both directions.  After driving up, up, up the road to Catarina and passing many small nurseries and craft stores, but no real place to stop, we drove straight into *the* parking area for Catarina.  As with other touristy areas here, there was someone selling the infamous yellow parking tickets.  We paid the 20 cordobas (80 cents or so), drove into the area, and Peter managed to squeeze into a normal, but tiny space.

We ambled out of the car and could immediately see why this would be such an attraction.  Even from the parking lot, 50 yards or so from the overlook, we could catch glimpses of Laguna de Apoyo.  We headed over, past more stores of handicrafts (wooden toys, brightly colored dresses, handmade sandals) and recommended restaurants to view the, well, view.


The view....

As soon as we reached the sidewalk, we found ourselves climbing down the hillside. Stairs of sorts are built into the hillside in most places, except where Nick wanted to climb. In those areas, we found jumps of 4 feet to 20 feet down to the area closest to the guardrail.  Oh, of course, the boy jumped down as many as he could, giving me just slight heart palpitations.  I'm all for free play, it's just those landings that include jumps of more than 15 feet or so (or 5) make me a bit nervous.  We tried a few photo ops and you can see for yourself how they came out.  Yes, the hair, I know.



The .5 person in this was not thrilled by the photo op.



The upswept hairdo fell down, and sadly, I didn't realize until post-photo. Oops.

After a few minutes of walking, admiring the horses, and watching a vendor hawk rental binoculars, we decided it was time for a late lunch.  We stopped by the cafe puported to have the best view and were promptly serenaded when we sat down. 


They were great and we tried to tip appropriately. I handed them 100 Cordobas (approximately 4 USD) and they promptly tried to give us change. We said to keep it, of course, and finally they acceded. If you are curious, $4 is just 84 cents shy of the daily minimum wage.


Dragon fruit juice, yum.


We enjoyed our surtido (sampler), though found that with the view came a lot of bees via the open window.  Peter and I both had a chance to finally try jugo de pitahaya (dragonfruit juice) and we were pleasantly surprised.  Dragon fruit has been a bit tart in the desserts we've tried, but was clearly sweetened just a tiny bit and was very pleasant to enjoy with the plantains, rice, veggies, and chicken.  The only issue came when we tried to pay and ended up using all of our handicraft cash on lunch. The propietor of the cafe had failed to mention that their credit card machine was broken.  Unfortunately, ATM cannot fix everything in Catarina, as the nearest one is 30 minutes away in a neighboring town.

After lunch, we attempted a walk around to look at the different crafty stalls.  Kelsey had to loan us cash for lunch, so we had but a few cords left that would not buy even smallest trinket.  However, as it turns out, we were not long for Catarina.  She was tired, Nick was finished looking at the view, and we decided to head home.  As we were walking out, one of the infamous bees from lunch headed our way.  Kelsey tried to brush it away, but it stuck around and slammed a stinger right into her arm.

The poor thing burst into tears, and while I promptly pulled out the stinger, the spot started to swell and her arm ache.  Luckily, there was a shaved ice vendor standing not 5 feet away, and Peter barely had to say a word before he handed him a chunk of ice.  I applied it to Kelsey's arm while she wailed and hoped for the best.  While it certainly didn't kill her, by the time my mother died she was extremely allergic to bee stings and given how far we were from anywhere, I can't say I wasn't a little nervous.  Two minutes later the shaved ice vendor, who had continued to slave away over his ice grater, passed a handful of shaved ice to Peter for Kelsey and promptly rejected Peter's offer of the meager 13 cords we had left after paying for lunch.

We bagged the ice, bagged the rest of the trip, and headed home.  45 minutes later Kelsey was feeling much better, and there were no signs of any reaction.  While it wasn't our best day to explore and Catarina was a bit hot, sweaty, and crowded, we managed to enjoy a good lunch, a great view, and experience a kind-hearted gesture from someone who probably could ill afford it.  Hopefully, we can actually enjoy shaved ice next time, and just hurry away before the vendor can argue about the extra large tip.

September 30, 2013

From what I read, fall is

beginning to hit in the States, at least in areas where the foliage normally turns from green to gorgeous yellows, oranges, and reds, before the leaves drop to the ground.  Having spent most of my childhood in a part of the south where these changes did not occur (green leaves to brown overnight), I have grown to appreciate the splendor that is autumn in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

This year, for obvious reasons, the only change we might observe here is to crank the A/C a bit more, as the days seem to get progressively warmer and more humid.  Or maybe it just seems warmer, since tomorrow is October 1, and by now in northern Virginia, we'd at least be pulling out sweaters or throwing on the occasional jacket.  Instead, I am enjoying photos that friends post on Facebook, baking pumpkin muffins courtesy of tetra-pak organic pumpkin, and thinking that I will only need a sweater at work for those days when  it seems the A/C is overdoing it.

There is another change I am not seeing here and before I mention it, I will just say how grateful I am.  For if there is nothing more disturbing when back in the States, as when I see the gorgeous fall colors corrupted on an annual basis by the pink.  You may remember this post I wrote early last October.  I was trying desperately not to be smacked by the pink, and yet, true to form, I managed to spend the whole month being hit with it.

While I have seen a few items here and there, to include a pink ribbon on the ajo polvo (ground garlic) at the store (yes, this is inexplicable to me, too), or the cover of a local magazine that discusses Cancer de mama (Really? Amazing how everyone seems to forget men are also affected), that is about the sum total.  There is a  local race, but it is under-advertised (by U.S. standards) and I have only seen one small poster on the local highway thus far.

What does this spell for me?  Total and utter relief.

There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than not only being diagnosed with something so awful, but to have it happen in the middle of an "awareness" month.  The problem is that there is no dearth of awareness, especially in the U.S.  There is pink everywhere in October, if for no other reason than companies want to look good by sharing in the pink.  After all, if you slap a pink ribbon on something, everything will magically be okay.

Let me assure you, that's not the way it works.  A pink ribbon does not change your diagnosis, it does not save your boob, it does not keep you from a painful surgery and recovery (or five, in my case).  A pink ribbon does not mean money will go anywhere.  When you see that pink ribbon, do you stop to look at the fine print? Do you read exactly where the money will go, what money is left after various and sundry administrative fees are deducted from it, corporate style salaries are paid, and the cost of advertising is removed? Do you find yourself buying a product just because it has a pink ribbon on it, because someone you know was affected, and you just want to help? 

If so, then stop.  Stop and find out who slapped that pink ribbon on the product.  Find out where the money goes (and if it's that giant K company, I would put that product back on the shelf and stop buying that brand), and what exactly it's how it's going to be used.  Ask yourself if you are buying the product because you really need it or because you somehow feel even the pittance of money that goes to said organization will really help.  Put the product back, write the name down, go home and then research the heck out of the product, the organization benefiting from said trickle-down donation, and decide if then that purchase will really do any good.

The reality is that no amount of pink ribbons will stop this from happening, nor will it give back to those of us who have lost so much throughout the years.  The truth is, the pink is just a giant slap in the face that reminds us every year for 31 days that a nasty cell infiltrated our bodies and forced us to have a few really bad weeks/months/years.  Corporations that may well make cancer-causing products then try to convince us that since they put a symbol on their product, it somehow means they really care and want to help us. If you want to donate to a facility that actually performs research, send the money directly to them and bypass the middle (and very expensive) man.

Breast cancer appears to be the only sickness that is supposed to be deemed as cute and pretty.  People seem to believe if you hand someone who is dealing with it a cutesy plaque with a pink ribbon, he or she will be so enraptured with the color, that somehow they will forget the doctor visits, the tests, the constant invasive questioning, the surgeries, the pre or post-surgical treatments, and most of all, that he or she may have lost a body part that not everyone deems necessary, but some  like to have.

The flip side of the coin is that people focus so much on awareness of one topic, they completely forget about others issues or that awareness, in and of itself, does very little.  Awareness did not save me from anything.  It did not change the course of my treatments, and in fact, if I needed awareness in any arena, it would be what it would be like to live with all of the changes the surgeries would foist on me. I knew when something was not right with my body and that's why I went to the doctor. Not because of a pink ribbon or a bra campaign on Facebook, but because a lump that does not go away after a week or two might not be mastitis.  Just like if I had a loose or painful tooth, I would go to the dentist. I don't need someone telling me every day for a month to see the dentist if my tooth hurts.

I would love to see less pink and more time spent on awareness of post-surgical and treatment changes.  Doctors tend to spend so much time focusing on the "getting rid of" that they forget just how much damage it can do to one's body and mind.  I know if I knew then what I know now, I would have radically scaled back my primary surgical choice and reminded my surgeon that it was my body she was dealing with, not hers. Survival factors (though I have no plans on dying from anything but crankypants old age), would be no different and I would feel less mutiliated (yes, really, some of us actually feel that way...and you know what? It's okay!)

I would have been far more vocal with my first oncologist and fired her the moment she told me that "No chemo was not a get out of jail free card," while discussing the Tamoxifen issue.  After all, if this wasn't my fault (something I was repeatedly told), why was I to feel that I was supposed to be in jail?  Never mind that she could not prove to me that Tamoxifen could be helpful, even more importantly, not fatal with my family history of pulmonary embolus issues. Last, but not least, she told me she would not be held liable if anything happened to me. Um, right.

I would have loved an awareness that my getting back to normal revolved not around overtreating something that was removed from my body and likely never to return, but simply getting on with my life. The counselor who told me to just "take 18 months off" had clearly never been through anything similar and I would have given anything for her to be aware of the pain her words caused me. 

Instead of shaking in my boots and just trying to breathe when the first radiation oncologist screamed at me that I "might be stage 3" (no evidence to support that from any tests),  I would have told him where to stick in and walked out of the room.  In fact, the only doctor who I still would consider seeing (but I don't need to do so) from the first *set,* if you will, is the plastic surgeon.  He actually commented that he was grateful I didn't fire him. I just smiled and nodded, but probably should have told him that since he treated me like a person with a few brain cells to rub together, I did not find the need to send him down the not-so-primrose path the others took.

Let's have awareness that those who are dealing with this issue might need nurturing, hand-holding, or just a day to bloody forget about all of the decisions they are struggling with. They might want to not stress about meals, extra money for child care, or who is going to walk the dog while they are recovering.  Be like all of my amazing friends around the world who brought me food (okay, those in the tri-state area), organized said bringing of food, collected donations (insanely helpful for the extra daycare Nick needed), brought me warm blankets, and called to gossip about anything but what I was going through.  They took me to lunch, we stressed about Foreign Service stuff, and they kept me going when I was enmeshed in a sea of painful pink.  They didn't use words like battle or survivor (those are also on my bad list), but instead reminded me about the joys of bidding and insisted on conversing about where we would go next.  And...that got me through.  Not glittery pink scarves or not walks that went nowhere (and required insane amounts of money just to register), but friends and their awareness of what really mattered.

Most of all, take fall to be aware that life is short and needs to be enjoyed. Put down that pink-beribboned item, go outside and breathe in the autumn air. Enjoy the foliage, go to a corn maze, and pick some apples or pumpkins.  Life can be short for any one of 18,000 plus reasons, and buying into the pink ribbon program (like the $200+ pink Uggs) won't change that.  Do think of us when you pick a pumpkin (we will miss that this year), just don't pink it, k?


September 23, 2013

Two weeks ago Nick

came home from school and let us know that his teacher was away due to a death in the family. He wasn't entirely sure whether it was her mother or grandmother (and at one point, decided it was both). I sent his teacher a very general email the following Monday and offered our condolences.  She replied that she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from the children when they learned of her grandmother's passing, and that Nick had offered sweetly, "My grandma went to the sky, too." 

I normally try to be a bit more original, but I thought last year's post said it quite succintly.  Feliz cumpleanos,Mom, from all of us, especially from the Little Guy who adores you and knows of your importance despite having never met you.

Love you and miss you. 

September 20, 2013

Que busca, mi niña?

Was the refrain I heard over and over, from the moment we stepped into the local market in Managua. The kindly grinning vendor, garbed in the traditional Nica outfit, and not at all overwhelmed by the large basket balanced ever so delicately on her head, was sure she could help me. It was our second trip to the Roberto Huembes market and to say it dwarfs the Masaya market is an understatement.  While I was really just looking (my common refrain), I couldn't help but be charmed by her insistance, even if I was well-stocked on cacao or rosquillas.

We investigated the Huembes market for the first time two weeks ago when we had a borrowed car and a need to escape our home.  Our house is large and beautiful, but isolated and we are still adjusting to not having a wealth of neighbors or kids simply running around all hours of the day.  We packed ourselves up and as Cait was busy snoozing, as teenagers are wont to do on weekends, we took our empleada instead.

I'd love to give directions to the market, but if you know Managua, you know that's a bit difficult. I'd say it's 20 minutes from our house, not in the direction of Masaya and that's about as close as I can get.  The market itself stumbles around a large area of Managua and is not confined to one building. We had little trouble finding the turn for parking, but then did not know what the guard-like person was selling in the middle of the road when we turned in. Parking passes? Lottery tickets?  We opted out and attempted parking in the first lot to the left.  The spots just seemed odd, so we backed out, went back out to the left and found a larger, more spacious lot with lined spaces.  After parking and declining the ever-popular car wash offer from the lot guards, we headed into the market.

The outer shops reminded me of Masaya.  Cookies and other sugary treats were proffered constantly.  Stopping to look or even check one's watch will have several people offering samples or pointing out the goods they have to offer.  We had nothing in mind on the first trip, other than allowing our empleada to give us a brief tour.  It was more intense and packed than we expected and this surprised the kids.  They were a bit overwhelmed, and we ended up limiting our purchases to thread and doughnuts (well, at first glance they looked similar).

The thread was a happy surprise. Very inexpensive and a wide variety of colors.  The "doughnuts" were actually a type of cookie that seemed to taste like corn.  A bit crunchier and not as sweet as we expected, but now we can say that we've tried them. I've done a bit of searching, and if I've found the right recipe, they are called rosquillas and are a sort of doughnut-shaped cornbread cookie. 


Perusing the wares...

We left not long after the doughnut discovery, but ended up back at the market only a week later.  The office in which I now work had thoughtfully created a city tour and several of us opted for the excursion that would give us an overview of some of the more historic areas.  Many of the areas covered were on my previous trip, however, Peter had not had a chance to see any of the sights and the tour guide was able to offer interesting historical tidbits. 

We began in the original downtown that has never really recovered from the earthquake in 1972.  We were not able to visit the cathedral or see the eternal flame, as there was a rather large event taking place.  However, we did get a chance to enter the waterfront park that we opted out of during our first tour a month prior, Puerto Salvador Allende.

It seems to be touted as sort of a boardwalk style entertainment area.  There are several restaurants and had a festival with local dancers on the day we visited.  While it was very different from the other areas of downtown Managua, there didn't seem to be an overwhelming amount of actual activities.  There was an extremely clean and bright playground (actually, most play areas are very colorful), however, there was no shade and even past noon, the sun was shining brilliantly.  We are not even to the really hot season, and we could not imagine staying there longer than half an hour or so.  There was a walk out to the lake, but the fence surrounding it was a bit obstructive of the view and of course, there would not be any water activities due to the pollution.



A recycling bin! I was beyond pleased. I think it's amusing every item on the trash can is actually compostable and not trash, but still...this is good.

After 30 minutes there, we were sufficiently sweaty and packed back into the air-conditioned bus.  We continued through the city and even returned to Lome de Tiscapa.  It was gorgeous, as usual, if not a wee bit warm.  The final leg of the trip had us revisit the Huembes market.  I was a bit weary after the long ride, and had nodded off several times on the bus, but figured I needed to give the market a go in case I missed something the first time.  Did I ever...

Wow! Blurry, but you get the picture...


We didn't really peruse the meat section, but wanted to capture a view of it.

Yep, dog food in bulk.

Turn a corner and tables are magically filled with everything from potatoes to ginger, and corn to spices and flowers and....Vegetables seemed so ripe and recently picked, unlike much of what you find in the stores, and the selection was far larger than I had seen at any fruit stand.  No idea if anything was remotely organic, but at least it looked fresh and had to be straight from the farm. To say it was a coup to find this place would be an understatement.  The bag of tomatoes ran me 80 cents and the ginger...maybe 20 cents?

I can't say it's easy to find on one's own if you are only in town for a bit, but if you have a few days to explore or live here for any length of time, the market is worth a visit.  If not for the fresh produce, perhaps for the local outfits (the children's traditional clothing is so bright and happy), then perhaps for a small wooden toy or other locally made treat.  Be cautious with your belongings, but enjoy, as it is definitely a shopper's paradise for local goods.


September 07, 2013

Like a breath of fresh air

Last weekend, we had our first chance to really leave the city since our friends left in early August.  We still don't have our car (word on the street is it *might* be ready Monday) and to say that I had cabin fever was an understatement.

The kids were getting out of the house each day, but the only way I could get out would be to either schlep into the Embassy with Pete (a 35 minute crazy ride one way) and stay there all day and/or pray that a kind soul would offer me a ride to the grocery store.  While we knew we would live a bit far out, we didn't realize until we arrived just how in the middle of nowhere we live.  We certainly have little noise to deal with, but we don't have a pool or access to recreational facilities and after a while, tend to feel a bit trapped.

Now one might say, "Why not get out using local transportation?"  Not to decry this option, but, well, I can't is the long and short of it. There is no subway, I have not begun to understand the way the bus system works and while the tuk-tuks look adorable, I don't always feel safe riding in a car. The poor condition of most roads and the many obstacles in them such as potholes, dogs, and the famous fire juggler (though technically he hangs in the middle of a lane on the highway) can make driving here a rather stressful experience.  

Last weekend, we lucked out and managed to find an automobile to borrow.  While I'm still a bit nervous not being in our own car, the ability to get out and about when we need it is amazing.  Even better, Peter had Monday off, but the kids did not, so we managed a whole alone-time day.

I let him plan the day as he would be driving and therefore, whatever he felt doable would work for me.  We had originally hoped to do a trip to Aqua Nicaragua over the weekend, but that was based on the car arriving in a more timely manner.  Since that didn't happen, we've postponed that to a later date in the not-so-distant future.

Instead, he decided we should explore Laguna de Apoyo.  We didn't get started too early due to a surprise massage for me in the morning at the Beauty Lounge, which my poor back desperately needed.  The stress of settling in, adjusting to the local food climate (I finally ended 5 weeks of nearly consistent feeling sick on Sunday), and not having slept in my own (very comfy) bed since May 29 conspired against me and caused quite the stiff back.  Everything caused pain and I am thankful that between the massage and a few adjustments with the bed and a/c, the pain is now seriously diminished. Now maybe I can run faster than the chickens on my runs!

We headed out of the city on the main highway, and stopped for a quick lunch at a local grill.  Way more meat than I needed to think about, but it's a very popular option and we had plenty of leftovers for Nick's lunch the next day.  Once back on the road, I'd like to say it took another 30 minutes to arrive at the entrance of the nature preserve. However, I could be off as I nodded off in the car and only woke up when we hit the occasional random (yet ever present) dip in the road.

Once paying the fee to enter, we drove in and found ourselves on a narrow winding road that we shared with folks walking, dogs,  the occasional biker, and more than one woman with a heavily loaded basket of goods atop her head.  We really weren't sure entirely where to go, so headed off to the right at the first fork in the road.  It seemed like a heavily residential area, with an eco-lodge, but nowhere really to just stop for the afternoon.

We then turned around, and headed back up the road and took what would have been the left turn.  We passed one day stop that we had heard of, The Monkey Hut, and then kept going to see if we could find Abuelas, another popular stop.  We drove until the road became a rutted mess and not much later found Abuelas. The parking scenario seemed iffy at best and with the condition of the road and not actually owning the car, we felt it best to turn around and return to the Monkey Hut.

The sign advertised day visits and a space right up front was begging for our car to be put in it.  I had glimpsed the lake from the drive, but once stepping out of the car, it was a sight to behold.  Given that it was a Monday, there were few people visiting and the view was amazing and unfettered. Just a large, clear lagoon with a few kayakers and swimmers dotting the lake.

We headed down to the lagoon and managed to bump into a few friends who had the same idea.  They had a bit more experience on the day visit to the Monkey Hut and we realized that it would be the perfect place to take the kids for a weekend day of fun.  For $7/person, you can swim, kayak, float on a tube, snorkel or just snooze away on a lounge chair overlooking the lake.  One would presume it might be cold, but the geothermal vents warm it up.  Note: the depth is variable.  While extremely shallow around the edges, it deepens quickly and at the deepest point hits in the neighborhood of 800 feet. Needless to say, despite being strong swimmers, think we will use life jackets when we do our kayak tour.

The Monkey Hut has rooms for rent, though they are under renovation right now.  We watched some of the work and with the way the wood saw was whining frequently, I have no doubt it will be ready for guests soon.  In addition to the recreational facilities, one can also get a taste of comida tipica at the Monkey Hut or pizza at another restaurant along the shore.  Be sure to bring cash (effectivo) with you should you decide to visit, as the entrance fee will need to be paid that way and the internet is not the best there at times.  We had to pay our fees by credit card and it took several tries and the receptionist walking around quite a bit before she could find the ideal connection spot.

Even though we were only there for maybe an hour, just hanging by the lake saw the stress of the move and the adjustment period begin to melt away. I found myself planning our next day trip there, a bit selfishly sans kids, so that we can take as much time as we want to lazily explore the lagoon by kayak or innertube.  If you happen to be planning a visit to us any time in the near future, do not forget your swimsuit, as the lagoon will be at the top of our to do list!




August 22, 2013

Little signs...

that our house is finally feeling more like our home. Yes, I know home is where the heart is, but sometimes it's nice to have a few items that just really remind you of your family and not just Drexel Heritage.


UAB or Unnacompanied Air Freight is finally delivered to our house nearly 6 weeks after it arrived in country. It actually beat us to the Managua, if you can believe that.



I had just unpacked this when he arrived home from school. Like, better.



After two months of waiting, I finally have my new tea kettle, a small moving treat.



Hours of play...hours. Best thing we packed in the UAB.

The cat also found a play spot.

Stroke of genius: thinking to throw the plasma car into UAB at the last minute. Nick, riding around our extremely not-so-traveled (and gated) street. The little hill just ahead leads to the large, flat area that is our driveway (and play space).



Last, but not least, today's DIY project: Nick's indoor playhouse. It's still in process, just needs a bit of decorating and a lamp, according to Nick.



China gives the playhouse two non opposable thumbs up.


The only thing that we discovered that had been lost yesterday. 



Yep, another tooth. Nick lost his other bottom front tooth while at school.

And the car?  HHE (boat freight/household effects)?  Well, the car is on a boat making its way here and the HHE has been here for several weeks, so it should only be a matter of time.  Now to enjoy a cup of coffee in *my* mug....

August 19, 2013

15 years ago

I received a late birthday gift for my 26th birthday (yet, somehow I still just turned 29...a miracle!).  Yes, my now not-so-wee Cait was born and today, gulp, she turns 15.  They say time flies, but really...

An example of one of the many invitations available for those celebrating a 15th birthday.  If Cait were to have a quinceañera, I have a feeling the invites would have more of a Star Wars theme, but that's just a guess...

So, to my nearly towering over me, brilliant and insanely talented in the realm of all things artistic daughter, Happy, Happy Birthday.  May you enjoy the day despite the fact the fact that it's been a crazy summer and for the first time in your life, you have to go to school on your birthday. More people to sing feliz cumpleaños to you?

The birthday girl y su hermano.

August 13, 2013

Surprise! Someone is

growing up quickly and it's making me a wee bit sad. Yes, it is my birthday today, but no it's not me.  Well, not growing up at least.

I should thank everyone first for the birthday wishes.  I ended up having a very quiet day at home, minus the incessant banging in the front hall (the former rock garden in our living room is being replaced by a tiled in area and will be a mini-study of sorts).  I was able to get in a run, take a 2 hour nap, and shower before the kids came home from school, so a fabulous day right there.


Watermelon & feta salad, mushrooms & rosemary in a soy ginger vinaigrette and a carpacchio of corvino. Or yummy, as we call it.

Peter decided we should have a dinner out, so we stopped at Ola Verde.  I was even treated to dessert on the house by the owner, Carla.  My dragonfruit cheesecake arrived complete with a glowing candle and was, as is all food at Ola Verde, simply delectable.

We went straight home after dinner as Peter had something *terribly urgent* to do. I was carted off to the family room with Nick where he made several excuses as to why we should just stay there for a few minutes.  Not long after that, I was called into the dining room and surprised by cake and presents!


Surprise! Cake and presents! The kids baked this while we were at dinner. Are they awesome or what? (If you are counting, yes, it's a 2 dessert birthday.)

By far, though, the biggest surprise of the evening?

Can you see what's missing?


Someone lost his first tooth.



It had been loose for a few days (he was a bit, uh, perturbed when he first noticed) and he spent quite a few minutes really wiggling it tonight. Finally, after much discussion, he decided I could reach in and attempt to gently tug on it (I think the loose-ness was getting to him).  Five seconds later, and the tooth was out.


As if it wasn't enough he started Kindergarten this week, now this.  Well, it certainly made for a birthday I won't forget and how does one write Tooth Fairy in Spanish?


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