mom2nomads

ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

An American Hero and the Journey of a Lifetime

My grandfather is my hero, I straight up, no holds barred, adore him completely. Everyone who knows him knows that he is a hero, not only because he served in WWII and in Korea, but because of the way he served–with valor, determination, and by putting the well being of his fellow soldiers above his own time and again. He’s also my hero because, through all the battles and the horror, he never lost his kindness and compassion, his gentle nature and goodness. These things are incredible, and some of the strongest memories I have from childhood are sitting and listening to his stories about WWII, especially about D Day. From the moment it all began … when he jumped off the boat and was so top heavy with gear that he flipped upside down in the water, unable to right himself and feeling fairly certain he was going to drown, he felt someone cut his heavy baggage off and help right him, that person was his Sergeant, Sergeant John Weaver. To later on the beach, after his Sergeant had been shot. My Da had risked his life to find a medic for the Sergeant but, in the end, he couldn’t be saved, and Da wouldn’t leave his Sergeant, so amongst the gunfire and the blood, Da stayed until his Sergeant passed, and then he fought on. This is my Da, an American hero

I.L.Harper-Holland-1944 Liam-Da-WWII

 

So much more could be written about everything he experienced during WWII, everything his young wife who waited for him experienced, and I kind of touched on it here, but today, on the 70th anniversary of D Day, I’d like to focus on a trip we all took last May to Normandy, France. My grandfather was granted a wish by a non-profit that gives back to seniors for everything they have given to us called Wish of a Lifetime. His wish was to take his oldest great-grandson, my Liam, to Omaha Beach. Liam is the only child I know who has spent more time than I did listening to Da’s stories about WWII and, not surprisingly, Da is his hero as well. Never in a million years did we think this wish would be granted because it would be such a big undertaking, but the foundation decided it had to be done (you can learn more about the details here) and we decided we had to go as a family. We asked the foundation to please give Liam’s plane ticket to my Nana, we would pay for Liam’s ticket and then all meet in Paris to make our way to Normandy. The foundation was incredible in helping to organize everything, and, eventually, this huge thing happened and we ended up in this minivan–that’s the seven of us with two walkers about to drive from Paris to Normandy, we were a bit scrunched!

Dublin, France, Vista 019

We arrived in Normandy, decided to grab some lunch after we got Nana and Da checked into their hotel, and what should have been an easy breezy bite to eat ended up in a trip to hospital for my Nana. All the travel fatigue, and the cobblestone streets, caused a bad fall but , thankfully, we were very near to a hospital. Ultimately Nana, while very bruised and bloodied, was given a clean bill of health from the doctors but they wanted her to spend the night so they could observe her. Eric, my husband, had been the one who was back with her while we sat in the waiting room because they only allowed one person at a time with the patient and he speaks French. Before we left he talked the staff into letting me bring my Da back to see Nana. The memory of the two of them when they greeted each other is still so strong, Da reached out and took Nana’s hand, his face absolutely lit up with love, she patted his hand, he leaned over and kissed her cheek. The love my grandparents have for each other, after decades together, is simply amazing and they are never happier than when they are together.

It was decided that Da would come back to our B & B with us rather than stay in the hotel on his own, and the very nice B & B owner who arranged for him to stay in the one room that was on the ground floor, and the very nice people who had originally been in that room and gladly moved upstairs to accommodate Da, will always have a place in our hearts. Eric and I decided that one of us should stay with Da, especially since the rooms we’d reserved were in a different building of the B & B, and Eric volunteered. So my 6’4 husband, who loves my grandparents as if they were his own, spent the night on the small couch outside Da’s room and, before daybreak, quietly went into Da’s room to check on him and to make sure he was there when Da woke up so he could help him get ready. Have I mentioned how much I love my husband? I stayed with our exhausted children in their room

Dublin, France, Vista 076

The next morning we had breakfast with Da and, by the way, if you ever find yourself in Normandy …

Dublin, France, Vista 078

 

do stay at La Ferme Du Pressoir B & B, it’s spectacular

And we still talk about how scrumptious the breakfasts were

Dublin, France, Vista 077

 

 

Then we started our whirlwind of a day, which included a ceremony in Saint Lo where there is a church that has been turned into a museum dedicated to the American soldiers who helped to liberate France, the mayor of Saint Lo presented my Da with a certificate of thanks and granted him honorary citizenship of Saint Lo.

Dublin, France, Vista 105

We also visited the church where the body of Major Howie, my Da’s Major who was killed, was placed …

 

and the children got to lay down in hedgerows and learn all about the important part the rows played in the battles.

 

We stopped for lunch with our wonderful tour guide, Dale Booth

Da talking to my daughter, Aisleen (can you tell by the look on her face that it was a very full day?)

Da talking to my daughter, Aisleen (can you tell by the look on her face that it was a very full day?)

 

Somewhere in the midst of that Eric was able to go to the hospital and get Nana checked out so she could join us for the rest of the tour, and we continued on to Omaha Beach, which was a pretty incredible experience. To finally be at this place we’d been hearing about for so many years, and to be there with Nana and Da, is something I won’t even try to put into words because words just can’t contain it. We sat there, listening to Dale talk about the battle of D Day, finally seeing where the men had landed, where the Germans had been with their guns, finally seeing the beach that had shaped so many people in so many ways. Our youngest, who was six, had wandered off to play on the beach. I watched him dig his fingers into the sand, jump over puddles of water, search for shells and rocks, and I was thinking of how this beautiful, peaceful beach had seen so much carnage, how so many men had lost their lives here; and there was my baby, playing  in the sunshine on this almost mythical beach. Omaha beach, once a place of horror, was now a place of joy where children were free to run.

Riley on Omaha Beach

Riley on Omaha Beach

 

Da, Eric, and Liam listening to Dale talk about the battle.

Da, Eric, and Liam listening to Dale talk about the battle.

 

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach

 

Our day drew to a close in a very emotional visit to Normandy’s American Cemetery, where my grandparents took part in the lowering of the flags

Dublin, France, Vista 167

 

After the ceremony we were chatting about the day, making sure Nana and Da were holding up okay, when an American approached Da and asked if he could shake his hand, Da held out his hand and the man thanked him for his service, Da was visibly touched. One by one, surrounded by the silence of this sacred cemetery, American tourists and French citizens came up to Da to shake his hand and speak quietly to him–”thank you for your sacrifice,” “thank you for helping to liberate my country,” “thank you for being part of the greatest generation.” My children and I had eyes that were filled with tears at this outpouring of love and respect. A reporter came up to us and asked if she could interview Da and Liam, Liam had a hard time keeping it together because he was so emotional but he explained it was because this was such a dream come true for him, to be in Normandy with his great-grandfather, who was his hero.

Dublin, France, Vista 178

Then he took a few minutes on his own to pay his respect to the men who had made the ultimate sacrifice

Dublin, France, Vista 182

For so long, men who served in WWII felt that they couldn’t talk about what they experienced because, they believed, nobody cared, I’d heard this from men that Da had served with. Many years have passed since the time when Da could no longer hold his stories and experiences inside, I was lucky enough to be there when he decided he needed to start talking about it, and Da has always known that his family cares deeply about what happened in WWII and, specifically, on D Day; each stranger who expressed their thanks and respect to Da showed him that we are not alone in caring and in being grateful and we, in turn, were grateful for their kindness and for helping to make this journey of a lifetime complete.

 

From Da, on the 70th anniversary of D Day: “70 years ago I, with a small detachment of men from the 111th FA BN of the 29th Div. landed on Omaha Beach on the Normandy Coast. We were attached to the 1116th Inf. Bn. of the 29th Division and came in with the 2nd Wave at 7:30 in the morning. We faced German firepower, shrapnel, land mines, barbed wire, Tetrahedrons. I lost my BN commander, Thornton Mullins, my Sgt., John Brown Weaver, among others on that beach that day. To them and my comrades who survived D Day, my heart has been with you since that day. We did the job we had been trained for and did it well. ’29 Let’s GO’.”

 

SEAS, a Tiny but Mighty School

Every nomadic family knows that one of the hardest things about moving every few years is finding the right school for the kids. So many questions go with this search, so much stress and worry. Will they be academically challenged? Will they fit in? Will the staff nurture them emotionally? Will they be safe? Will they be expected to stuff themselves into a box or will they be allowed to find their own path? It weighs on a momma.

We have three children, each with their own special gifts and qualities, all operate above grade level in many subjects, one operates well above grade level in all subjects, and they have vibrant personalities that need to be allowed to fly free. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not trouble makers, each of them has always been the kids that teachers want in their classroom–they’re leaders, thoughtful and respectful to their peers and their teachers. But they all have large personalities and one of my priorities is to find a school where they will not be expected to minimize themselves in order to fit in.

Our first school here was very mixed for us. Our daughter was badly bullied (which I blogged about here) by a girl in our neighborhood who also went to the same school as our kids. Long story short, months of trying to get the behavior dealt with on the bus and in school was fruitless and we knew our only option was to find a different school. I was having coffee with a friend, talking to her about the bullying, and she suggested that I check out the tiny school her kids went to, so one morning our daughter and I paid SEAS a visit, after five minutes I said to myself “this is it, this is the school for her.” Our daughter, who had been so emotionally bruised and battered, had transformed from an incredibly extroverted, vibrant, joyful child into a shy child, mistrustful of strangers. I was pleasantly surprised when she said she wanted to spend the day at the school, when I picked her up that afternoon she bounded up to me and said “Momma! I made 20 friends today!”  This was the girl who, only the week before, I’d seen wandering the perimeter of the playground of her (now) old school, head down, earphones in–that was a sight that tore at my heart because it just was not who she was. Two days after starting at SEAS, her new school, she was back to hula hooping around the house and chattering non-stop. Academically she’d struggled, for the first time ever, at the first school, her grades were plummeting. She was so lost in the emotional turmoil of the bullying that she couldn’t soar academically. At SEAS she took off like a shot, making such rapid improvement that it was almost shocking to her teachers. We’d gotten our daughter back, SEAS gave us our daughter back. As a mother I have found very few things more painful than watching one of my children suffer, SEAS put an end to that suffering and showed Aisleen that she could trust again, that she was safe again, that she didn’t have to shrink into the background anymore, she could soar and be her colorful, imaginative, dynamic self. I really will never be able to put into words how grateful I am for such an profound gift, the gift of helping to bring our child back to herself.

Our youngest did well academically (though he was operating at a higher level than the other kids in his class and I was frustrated by what I saw as him having to sit in a box that he’d outgrown), fit into his classroom, had lots of friends, but I began to suspect that the kids were allowed to be very rough on the playground when the first words we heard him speak in Spanish were “ayuda me,” help me! And my gentle boy, who at his school in Virginia we’d been told was the most well-mannered and respectful child they’d ever had, became very rough and tumble, beyond what I would consider to just be part of growing up, and kind of rude which, if you’ve ever met Riley, you know is the opposite of who he is. Yep, time to switch him.

Then there was our oldest, who is now 13. When we moved here he was given a series of standardized tests and he scored pretty much off the charts so the school recommended he skip fifth grade and go right into sixth. We thought long and hard, sought advice, weighed pros and cons, and decided to go ahead and do it. He’s always been mature for his age, never has had problems making friends, and school was a breeze for him from day one so, sure, let’s challenge him more. Worst. Mistake. Ever. During our first parent teacher meetings his math teacher told us he was really struggling, which we knew because doing homework with him was a hair-pulling nightmare. We told her that we felt it was probably because he’d missed out on some pretty fundamental stuff since he skipped a grade, her response was “he skipped a grade?” I looked at my husband with my “are you freaking kidding me???” face. The school had never told his teachers that he’d skipped fifth grade, his math teacher had no idea he’d never been taught division. Sixth grade was a struggle but he ended up getting good grades and really rising to the occasion. He’d also made a lot of friends and was enjoying playing oboe in the school band so, cool, we decided he should stay where he was. Second. Worst. Mistake. Ever.

Seventh grade was an absolute bust that ended up in a crisis meeting with his teachers and the director of the middle school, the theme of which is “how can we stop Liam from tanking?” The most frustrating thing to us as parents was that he’d been tanking for a good couple of weeks and until I got a call from his science teacher expressing her concern at his rapid downhill movement I had no idea. His grades were still good but over the course of about three weeks he’d gone into a freefall–utterly overwhelmed academically and clueless how to fix it and, for the first time ever, he didn’t come to one of us about it because, he later told us, he felt like a failure. We decided he needed a smaller school, one that could tailor a learning plan to help him excel in the areas he was strongest in and teach him some of the fundamentals he missed out on when he skipped fifth grade, and one that would help him rediscover his love of learning; he needed SEAS. The school wouldn’t refund his tuition in order to allow us to switch him immediately so we hired a tutor who would work with him on organizational skills and help make sure things were getting done. Luckily, the tutor was his wonderful science teacher who he really liked and who was someone I trusted completely to help him. He ended up pulling his fat out of the fire and, in fact, finishing quite strong in the subjects he’d been struggling with the most. Now, at SEAS, his academic needs are nurtured, and the boy who could barely write a research paper last year is, in social science, history, and English, working at a college level. And far above grade level in math, a subject he came close to failing last year. It’s kind of incredible. And I kind of want to drive over to his old school and shout at the top of my lungs “IN YOUR FACE!”

So, all three kids together in the same tiny school. This school really is more like an extended family, it’s a place where I know my children are safe and loved, challenged and driven, and a place where they are held to the highest of standards academically and behaviorally. No excuses accepted, ever. Consequently, each of our children has learned to take so much responsibility for their own education, I’m kind of blown away. At SEAS our older children have been taught all the fundamentals they need to move on–Aisleen to middle school and Liam to high school. How to research and write a paper, and properly document the research? Not a problem. Math at grade level? Pfffft, too easy, they’re way beyond it. Science? Aisleen was asked by her teacher last year to teach the kids Newton’s laws of physics because, after having been taught the first one, she’d come home and learned and researched them all. Complete with an experiment made up of her little brother and a swinging hammock, luckily nobody was hurt. Also, don’t ask them about chemistry unless you’re prepared to sit for a good, long while. And did you know that Pachelbel’s Canon and Green Day’s song “Basket Case” do this … yea, neither did I until my kids told me (they learned it in Music Appreciation).

Our youngest came back from being kind of angry and rough (like he had to live on the defensive) to his incredibly sweet, loving, thoughtful self in no time once he started at SEAS. This is the child who always greets me with a resounding “Mommy!” and a huge hug, who will always apologize to our dogs if he bumps into them while tearing around the house (complete with that winning hug), who can charm the socks off even the hardest of hearts, and who is just plain old fun to be around. Some of that had been lost at his old school, SEAS let him be himself again, he no longer had to play a child’s version of “survival of the fittest.” Just like the other two, he excels academically, that box he was forced into in his old school fell away immediately. He is in second grade but reads at least at a fourth grade level, can do complicated addition and subtraction in his head (he often comes up to me and says “mommy, write down a hard math problem for me, please!” I haven’t been able to stump him yet), and recently finished a research paper on Leif Erikson. He has also started speaking Spanish at home, this crazy mix of one sentence in English, the next in Spanish, back to English, then Spanish. I love it! His teachers at SEAS recognized immediately what he needed academically, over the past two years I haven’t spent a day worrying about having his needs met. And each one of them, pretty soon after they started teaching him, came up to me with this melty look on their faces saying “oh my gosh, Riley is so sweet …” I know, my face looks like that when I talk about him too. Or when I’m around him. Or when I’m thinking of him. Yes, the child has me tightly wound round his finger.

So, I have been at an absolute loss for how to say thank you to SEAS for being exactly what my children need, for reinvigorating in each of them their natural love for learning, for giving me so much peace of mind. The short answer is that I can’t. I can never say thank you enough, I can never properly put into words my deep gratitude, or express how utterly blessed we have been to be part of this amazing, special school for 2 1/2 years. I will never be able to say how much we are going to miss them, or how devoted we are to this tiny school. This was the only way I could think of to come close to expressing my thanks and to putting into words how much SEAS has meant to our family. We love you, SEAS!

ps. If you check out the website for the school, on the homepage, that’s our oldest with the youngest son of the school’s director/owners on his back (one of the things we love about SEAS is the vast age range of the students because it gives the older ones a chance to mentor and the younger ones a chance to connect with older kids), our youngest with his face buried in a book, and our beautiful daughter in the blue shirt, looking at the camera.

pps. If anyone would like to know which school was the one our kids went to initially, please feel free to contact me. I didn’t name them because I didn’t want this to be about them, I wanted it to be about SEAS.

Saying See You Later, this is the part that really sucks

I should be sorting and organizing but I need to write this, my heart is aching for my children and I have to acknowledge that in words.

Last night we were having dinner, eating, chatting, each child trying to get their voices heard. Our daughter, who is ten, had had a very long day, she’d gone straight from school to the vet clinic where she volunteers and she’d assisted in several surgeries, she was tired but also her normal silly and sassy self. About halfway through dinner, seemingly out of the blue, she looked at me and very quietly said “mom, I don’t want to leave Costa Rica.” I saw tears in her eyes, she looked down and wiped her eyes with her shirt, kept her head bowed for a moment, took a deep breath and let the pain pass. I told her I understood, I didn’t really want to leave either, that I was sorry. I felt completely helpless when faced with her grief. I knew she was thinking of our vet, who has become a good friend to all of us, I knew she didn’t want to leave Anna and her clinic.

On the way to school this morning our youngest, who is seven, said “mom, I don’t want to leave Costa Rica.” I asked him why and he said “because my two best friends are here! I want to stay with them.” Of course he does. The kids and I talked about how it’s so hard to say goodbye. We talked about how, when you live a nomadic life, you learn what is really and truly important to you in a different way than when you don’t move all the time. Bad roads? Too much traffic? Electricity that goes off? Internet that magically disappears? Frustrating laws? Honestly, we learn none of that is truly important. It can all be frustrating in day to day life, and there are days when those problems feel huge, but when we are so close to leaving and saying goodbye to people that we love, we see what is truly important to us–family, friends, love.

So this is the part that sucks. When faced with this pain my children feel I am often clueless how best to comfort them. Hold them. Listen to them. Talk with them. I can do all that, but I can’t make it go away. This is going to be a pretty difficult grieving process and we’re all just going to have to move through it.

I try not to think about my own grief, I try not to think about leaving people that I love. It’s so important to make friends, especially when you’re nomadic and don’t have your family near by, your friends become your family. My friends here have become such an integral part of my life, woven so deeply into my happiness. They’re always there for us in a pinch, always there to listen to me, to laugh with me, to help guide me, and they’re just really, really good people. My closest friend here is someone I see almost every day, I’ve grown to rely on her smile as a way to start my morning, thinking of letting go of such a simple thing is tough. I was at her house the other night, we were chatting with another friend of ours (who is also moving this summer) when she started getting tears in her eyes. It’s inevitable that when she tears up I tear up, and I hate crying in public, so I pointed at her and said “don’t start with me, woman!” and our other friend said “there’s no crying in baseball!” which made us all laugh. Tears were still there though and she said “it’s just that you’re my peeps and I know as long as you’re both here everything is okay.” Two of us are moving this summer, one of us is staying. It pretty much sucks. These women are the mothers of my youngest child’s two best friends, all of our children have a tough road ahead of them.

I am not whining, I’m not complaining, I’m not even having a pity party (yet). But the weeks leading up to each time we move are always some of our toughest and the ones that make me ask questions; are we doing the right things for our kids, would they be happier if we just stayed in one place, are we expecting too much from them emotionally? We’re almost to the tenth anniversary of joining the Foreign Service and I still don’t have the answers to those questions. They’re fantastic kids, they’re healthy, happy, kind, smart, and so much fun to be around. So I guess they’re okay. But how do I best help them say goodbye to people they couldn’t love more if they were blood? I simply do not know.

I’ve spent months trying not to think about saying goodbye but it’s close enough now that it’s not dwelling as much as preparing. I guess what we’ll all have to do is focus on the positive side of all of this, if we hadn’t made such amazing friends we wouldn’t be going through this, the pain is a testament to the power of our friendships. We’re letting ourselves live and love. My closest friend here and I decided this is our theme song, I think it sums this crazy, nomadic life up nicely …

This is Your Brain on Post-Packout Panic …

I woke up at three this morning, suddenly seized by panic at the thought of everything I need to get done in the seven weeks leading up to our move. Where the hell did the time go? How is it this close already? I managed to fall back asleep sometime around 5:30, and then wake back up a bit before seven. The DH, sweet as ever, said “go back to sleep, I’ll get the kids to school.” Sigh … too much to do. I’m not entirely lucid right now and I’m only just starting my first cup of coffee so I can’t guarantee this post will make a whole lot of sense. There are a million things I need to do but if I don’t get some of these thoughts out of my head they’ll still be there at three am tomorrow. Well, they’ll be there anyway but I’m hoping to weaken them.

When my brain made it quite clear, somewhere around four, that it would be damned if it was going to let me sleep I decided to preoccupy it. I eventually stumbled upon a very funny blog post from another FS mom who is also in the middle of pre-packout panic, in my FB feed, and there I lay, in bed at half four in the morning with our youngest next to me snoring away, reading it and giggling. I love our life, I love it as much as I could possibly love a life, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some seriously stress-inducing, hair-pulling, ohmygodI’mgoingtobeatmyheadagainstawall, moments. At this point I just have to keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, because I have this monster looming behind me and his speed is better than mine. I feel like the woman in the original Evil Dead movie who is racing through the woods in her robe and slippers while the evil force tears after her. Just keep going, one foot in front of the other and, for the love of god, don’t look back! When you look back you let your guard down, everyone knows that, and then the evil force will get you! It’s like my favorite line from my favorite running app, Zombies, Run!, “Don’t look back! Just run!” Only the move is a lot less fun than running from imaginary zombies. And I pretty much feel like this is where I’m headed …

Freaky, right? Totally freaky. And nuts. Which is how I increasingly feel as the move comes closer. Eventually, you’ll find me sitting on the floor, huddled tightly in a corner, moving between maniacal laughter and quiet tears, the only sound you’ll hear is the “plip, plop!” of tears hitting merlot.

Here is the BIG dilemma, the one I face with every move– how do I live three lives at once? I have present day life, which is a wonderful and full life with friends, my running (this is therapy, it cannot be sacrificed), volunteering at my kid’s school, trying to squeeze in a few more weekends at spots we still want to see, keeping in touch with friends and family back home, keeping up with all the day to day responsibilities of life. And then there is packout/moving life where I have to sort through an entire household of stuff to determine what gets tossed and what comes with us. And if it comes with us do I put it in our air freight or do I put it in HHE (House Hold Effects–this arrives much more slowly than the air freight), or do we drive it to Honduras when we (knock on wood) drive our animals there to set them up in the new house before we leave for the US for six weeks? And how do I organize it all so it doesn’t get mixed up? I am not the most organized person in the world, and I have a very tenuous hold on the concept of “attention span.” I’m the person who will sit down, telling myself I will focus and, fifteen minutes later … Oh! Shiny! So I’m thinking what I’m going to need to do is turn off the internet during the day so I can’t get distracted by facebook, email, or quizzes about what kind of seltzer water I am. Because between the house, the stuff that has to happen for our medical clearances, the paperwork, and all the eight billion things my DH has to to on his end well, see the above video.  I swear, I have opened the seven year old’s closet a half dozen times this week, gazed at the vast amounts of crap, sighed, and quietly shut the door. “Closet, you have defeated me, once again. Fuck you, closet, just, fuck you.” Yes, I am firmly in the place where I am actively and frequently muttering swear words at inanimate objects and household space.

The third life I’m living is future life. This is co-coordinating with my DH what we need to do for our new adventure in Honduras–the house, the logistics of moving our animals, going over info for different schools, figuring out what we need for life in Honduras, putting out feelers to see if we can do the activities we love, trying to find activities for the kids– I feel like I have one foot in the present, one foot in the packout, and one foot in the future. Except I only have two feet. This is a problem.

So I make lists, master lists and sub-lists, and I plot and I plan and life gets in the way and the move prep gets put on a hold for a day and I inch ever closer to madness. And have I mentioned we have two foster animals we’ve been trying to find homes for? A one-eyed cat and a four pound dog. Both very sweet and wonderful, and adorable! See for yourself …

Mooshie 008

 

Aren’t they fantastic? Wouldn’t you like one? No? Okay. Sigh …

So, here’s my final question to anyone reading this, and this is an incredibly important question so please take it seriously. Is it acceptable to have a glass of wine at three in the afternoon in order to help me tackle that evil closet? And every evil thing I need to tackle after it? Because, three kids, three closets. And our daughter has two closets. So I’m thinking two glasses of wine when I do her closets. That’s acceptable, right? Please? And please don’t tell me that they should organize and sort their own closets because then I’d have to smack you, and that would be ugly. I will co-sort with them but, ultimately, as I just reminded them this morning, “this is not a democracy, this is a dictatorship and I AM THE QUEEN!” to which our oldest helpfully responded “that would be a monarchy, Mom.” Somebody pass the wine, please …

Boomerang Lessons, How My Kids Inspire Me

“Boomerang lesson” is the term I’ve decided to start using for things I tell my kids that I need to pay attention to myself; in other words, listen to yourself speak, Heather, you might learn something. This past Sunday we ran a 5k race with our two oldest children, our 13-year old boy and 10-year old girl. It was a charity run for the Children’s Museum here in San Jose, my husband ran with our son and I ran with our daughter. Our kids are athletic and, despite the fact that if we let them they would immerse themselves for hours in electronics, they really enjoy being active. Since the time they were pretty young our kids could hike for miles and miles, the hubby and I are not parents who would push a 5-year old in a stroller–move forward and push on are lessons our kids learned early in life.

Our daughter was a bit anxious, she told me that she was worried she would slow me down, which I found a bit funny because I am not a fast runner, I consider myself to be a speedy turtle. My response to her was that I didn’t care one bit how fast we went, I only cared that we ran together and crossed the finish line together. I reassured her that she would set the pace and tried to drive home the lesson that there is no shame in walking or in running slowly, the only thing that matters is that you’re out there, having fun and challenging yourself and, in this case, being together.

The morning of the race came, she had butterflies (loads of them, she told me later) but was excited. I reminded her of all the things we’d been talking about, reassured her that she could do it, she nodded and smiled and we were off! We ran, we walked, we talked. The boys were far ahead of us (I’ve written before about how my hubby is a much faster runner than I am) but we all expected that. About two thirds of the way through the run her brain started getting the best of her, she began to believe she couldn’t do it, that it was too hard for her. Luckily for both of us two things are true: I believe in her completely and I have a Pinterest board that is brimming with inspirational running quotes! I told her that her brain could either be her best friend or her worst enemy, which side it landed on was entirely up to her. I told her “runners run a race in three parts–the first is with their body, the second is with their brain, the third is with their spirit and your spirit is so strong!”  She nodded, she liked that but she was still doubtful. I reminded her that she’s run 5k before, I reminded her that I believe in her. She still was not convinced. So I used a trick that I use for myself and told her we would just run to the next stoplight, then we could walk to the one after that, then run to the next, then walk. Running is a good metaphor for life in so many ways, in this case, just like in life, if things seems too large it can be overwhelming, but doing a little at a time can get you through to the finish line. We did this until we rounded a corner and she said “This looks familiar!” I told her to look straight, to the end of the street because the museum, and the finish line, were there, about 4 blocks away. She got a huge smile on her face and said “I can do this! I CAN DO THIS!” And she started to run, with me shouting after her “You’ve got this, girl! GO!” She ran and ran, walked for a few seconds, then hit the last 100 meters, a daunting hill–and she started to run, weaving through people, completely pushed forward by that unstoppable spirit of hers, totally focused on the finish line! She reached the top of the hill with me behind her, I caught up to her and we ran the last few meters, crossing the finish line together, just as we had wanted to do, it was a pretty incredible moment for both of us and, as her mother, I couldn’t have been more proud of her.

We stopped running, both winded from the hill and the last sprint to the finish line, and saw my husband and son walk out of the crowd towards us with huge smiles on their faces. Hubby told me he and our son, Liam, stayed together the whole way, then they hit the hill and he told Liam he was going to sprint it and then wait for him at the finish line. About halfway up hubby looked behind him and there was Liam, determined to keep up. They hit the finish line just a few paces apart, Liam felt pretty satisfied, then he moved to the sidelines and promptly booted– thank goodness that didn’t happen at the finish line!

So here’s my boomerang lesson … tomorrow I’m running my first 10k and, honestly, I’m pretty terrified. I can do it, I’ve done the distance, I’ve been training for this specific race for weeks and weeks but I am truly frightened. I’m not sure about what because I know I can finish it and I know even if I finish last, hey, at least I ran it! But I guess I’m intimidated by doing something new, and something that seems pretty daunting to me. So I have to remember all the things I told my baby girl while we ran, and I have to remember her spirit that refused to give up, and the determination our son had to keep running with his dad. So tomorrow my children, all three of them, will be my inspiration. The strength with which they approach life, all the change they go through, all the difficult transitions and goodbyes that go along with the life of a nomadic child, and the grace with which they handle these things, will be my inspiration to run, to keep moving forward, to not give up, and to believe in my own strength and spirit.

There was an amazing runner on Sunday, a man who would run to the front of our pack and then to the back, the whole time pumping his arms and shouting “Si, se puede!” Yes, we can! So, forward, and si, se puede!

Me and my baby running uphill, I reassured her that pretty much everyone had the look on their face that she does here, it was a tough way to end a race.

High five! The hubby crosses the finish line!

Liam crosses the finish line (pre-spew)!

Time to show off the medals!

The Tortoise and the Hare, Kind of.

Me and the hubby crossing the finish line of our first race

Me and the hubby crossing the finish line of our first race

This past Sunday my husband, Eric, and I ran our first race, a charity 7k to help Costa Rican police officers buy school supplies for their children. Neither one of us ever saw ourselves as runners but, for a variety of reasons, we’ve both been running for a while now. I’m in pretty decent shape, I do distance running three times a week, usually putting in about 14 miles a week, and I do hill running and strength training twice weekly. Eric does hill running at least five times a week, sometimes six, and when we run together he can leave me in the dust–but he never does. The first time we went running together we ran about 2 1/2 miles, I’d just started seriously running after too much time away from it so I was a bit spent, he’d been hill running for a while and had more stamina. We got back to our house, Eric turned to me, smiled, and said “I’m going to do some hill running, just to get my cardio up.” I shot him a look of absolute disgust as I bent over to gasp for air before squeaking out “I hate you,” he smiled more broadly and took off running up the hill, I dragged myself through our front door. We have a good natured competitive thread in our marriage …

Obviously, for a lot of reasons, men and women run differently, just by virtue of the fact that he’s nearly 6’5 he’s going to run faster than I am, monster legs and lungs count for a lot and the man has mad cardio strength. Eric is the kind of runner who does not need to take walking breaks, I haven’t gotten there yet. On my runs I’ll run for a mile, walk for two minutes, run to the second mile, and repeat that pattern until I’m done my run. So I told him going in to the race that he didn’t have to stay with me, we could each run at our own pace and I’d see him at the finish line, he said no, he wanted us to run together, that was part of the point!

The day of the race came, he calmed down my jitters, as he always does. I said to him “why the hell did I sign up for this?” he laughed and said “sweetie, you got this, you do this distance all the time!” We stood together, watching the clock, bouncing a bit to keep our muscles warm. We both had our music in our ears at that point, getting into the zone before the run. With a few seconds left on the countdown clock I touched his hand, we looked at each other and smiled, then we were off! After running for a bit I stopped to walk and motioned to Eric that he should keep going, he shook his head and stayed with me. For reasons I couldn’t figure out I was feeling a bit more worn than usual (I found out later it was because I was running at a faster pace than I normally do), I questioned the wisdom of running the 7K, asked myself why I hadn’t started with a shorter race my first time out, my brain was starting to beat my body down and I felt like I was dragging. I did a good stretch of walking, wondering if I should just walk the rest, reminding Eric with gestures that he should not wait for me and, each time I gestured to him to do that, he shook his head no. He never stopped running, he just slowed his pace to stay with me.

At about the halfway point we crossed a set of railroad tracks, a man who was racing in a wheelchair tipped going over the tracks, Eric and I, as well as the runner the man was with, stopped to help him. The men got him righted, I handed him his water bottle, he smiled at me, then we all continued on. I don’t know if it was his perseverance or just the fact that I hit my stride but I stopped feeling so sluggish and just ran, time and a couple of miles sped by, I walked a bit but just enough to get what I needed before running again. As we were rounding a corner Eric said something to me that I couldn’t hear, the look on his face let me know it was important so I took out an earbud and asked him to repeat, he smiled at said “it’s the last two hundred meters!” Sure enough, I looked ahead and saw the finish line. I nodded to him, put my earbud back in and we both started sprinting, he could have gone much faster but he stayed with me. About a hundred meters out I felt a bit winded but my brain, that had been so evil to me the first part of the race, had seen the light and said “you are not walking across that fucking finish line, run!” And I did, Eric and I crossed the finish line together.

A friend of ours who’d also run, and had already finished, snapped the above photo and when he posted it to my FB page it struck me as a metaphor for our marriage– Eric and I were together, running together, reaching a common goal together, just as we always do. I will freely admit that it takes a fair amount of patience to be married to me, I don’t know if I could do it. I’m not being overly hard on myself, just honest. I can be driven to a fault (common sense sometimes goes out the window) and very stubborn. And is there a term for “strong willed” that is stronger than strong willed? If there is, that’s me. I come by it honestly, it’s in my blood. Shortly after my great-grandparents, who were both from Ireland but met in the US, were married my great-grandfather handed his new bride a pair of his pants and asked if she would iron them. Soon after, she handed him back the ironed pants, only instead of ironing them so they were creased down the front she’d ironed them so they were flat as a pancake with the creases on the sides, clearly sending him the message “I’m your wife, not your mother, iron your own pants,” which he did from that day forward. So, yea, we Cawley women can be a bit strong willed and we’ve got tempers to match. Oddly, Eric loves those things about me. On the day of our wedding my Da (my maternal grandfather) pulled him aside and said “you’ve married a woman with Irish blood, the two most important words you need to know are ‘yes, dear.’” My Da says those words to my grandmother tongue in cheek for the most part, it either makes her laugh or roll her eyes, depending on the circumstances, and Eric and I are the same.

I can take a lot of patience, I have a selfish streak, I sometimes miss the forest for the trees and Eric has spent countless hours talking me down off ledges created by my tendency to fly off the handle. We’ve not always walked in lockstep but we’ve always managed to find our balance when we’ve misplaced it, hitting our stride and moving forward. We just had the eighteenth anniversary of our first date, in August we will have our sixteenth wedding anniversary and I can honestly say, with my whole heart, that I know we will spend the rest of our lives together. The fact that Eric stayed with me throughout the race, even though he could have gone much faster, is so quintessentially Eric and so quintessentially us–no matter what, we are together. He’s always been one hundred percent dedicated to staying by my side, and I am so much stronger for that. Whether it’s in running or any other thing we do, we’re together. I hope he does run a race where he really lets himself fly, even if that means I’ll sit it out and cheer him on at the finish line. But, for yesterday and for every day before that and every day after, I want to thank my amazing husband for always being my biggest cheerleader, for always believing in me, for always believing in us, and for never leaving my side.

The official crossing the finish line photo

The official crossing the finish line photo

 

Post race selfie, tired but happy!

Post race selfie, tired but happy!

A Letter to Our Nomadic Children: 10 Things I Hope We’re Teaching You

Our time in Costa Rica is coming to a close and we’re headed for Honduras this Summer, which means, according to the map below, we’re moving from the country that does happiness the best to the country that rocks homicides. Awesome!

what each country leads the world in

We’ve all got a lot of feelings bouncing around right now–excitement, nervousness, curiosity, anxiety, grief. I’ve enjoyed Costa Rica more than I thought I would, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the lifestyle we’ve chosen and about raising kids in that lifestyle. Lately I’ve been thinking of some things I’m hoping our kids are soaking in, both about being nomads and just about life in general. The challenges that we face as nomads are some of our most important teaching tools, that’s something I’m trying to remind myself of more often. I think the move has gotten me thinking of some of the lessons that are most important to me. So I’ve decided to sit down and write a letter to our three amazing nomads …

Dear Liam, Aisleen, and Riley

1. Try your best to go into your new host country with an open mind, let it be what it is, find out what that is as time goes on. I don’t have to tell you that moving is tough, and it’s even tougher when you’re leaving a country you love because you’ve had so much fun and so many cool experiences and you love your house and your friends and your teachers and leaving all that? Ick. Leaving Ireland was painful for all of us and we learned it’s hard to be open to a new country when it feels like half of you is still in the country you’ve come to love and call home. Remember that first trip we took to downtown San Jose? We caught the bus by our house and rode it to the end of the line, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of our host country. I was kind of excited to find out there was a pedestrian street downtown, I had in my mind Grafton Street and Henry Street in Dublin–tree lined, peppered with beautiful statues, shops, flowers, buskers, hustle and bustle. I thought of Temple Bar, on the edge of the river Liffy, with it’s ancient cobblestone pedestrian streets, or of the many little offshoots of the three, like this charming narrow mews …

Dublin

But, of course, that’s not what we found. Because it was San Jose and not Dublin. I had this ideal in my head of what a pedestrian street looked like and, because the one in San Jose didn’t live up to that ideal, I was pretty let down. I don’t know if you guys know but when we got home I cried. Now, I wasn’t really crying just because the street in SJ wasn’t my cup of tea, I was crying because my expectations had been dashed and, really, I just missed Dublin. I’ve learned, though, over the past two years, that expectations can sometimes be pretty harmful and it’s better to just accept a country for what it is. Which leads me to the next thing I hope you guys are learning …

2. Do not compare your host country to other countries, especially the ones you love the most. Boy was I bad about this when we moved here, and I’m sorry because I know that wore off on the three of you, I find myself still doing it occasionally (though, hopefully, mostly in my head). It accomplishes nothing and only leads to feeling resentful towards the country that will never live up to the favorite–which really isn’t fair to the country or to your happiness. So, kids, be fair to yourselves and to your present home, only in doing that will you find joy.

3. Be open to the unique gifts each country can give you. Every country, even the toughest to live in, has gifts to give and if you’re not open to receiving them you’ll never know what they are. All those hours we’ve spent body boarding in Jaco, the monkeys that have shaken trees around us, special people we’ve met, hikes we’ve taken in the rainforest at night with fireflies lighting up the night and sloths sleeping over our heads (and who knew hummingbird butts were so darn cute!) and so much more! Liam, you’re on a first name basis with an enormous crocodile! Aisleen, you spend hours every week helping to take care of animals who need you desperately. Riley, you have become a master tarantula spotter. Me? I got attacked by spider monkeys. They didn’t kill me, I’d call that a gift, and I got a great story out of it! These are all gifts, and incredible ones at that, so remember to be open to receiving!

4. Try to find something beautiful in your host country every single day. Keep your senses open, be conscious of the world around you. Take a moment to sit in the grass and watch the butterflies, stop on the hill in front of our house and close your eyes to feel the warm breeze on your face, hug a friend or a teacher, watch hummingbirds play–just allow yourself to do something to remember what a beautiful and interesting country you live in.

5. Find the humor in the eccentricities. It’s so easy to get frustrated when things don’t work properly (like the eight billionth time the internet goes out or when we lose power), or when you’re dealing with an infrastructure that could use some help, or the fact that there are too many cars for the roads; it’s perfectly understandable and okay to be frustrated by those kinds of things, they’re frustrating! But try, also, to see the humor in them. A tree branch stuck in a pothole that is big enough to swallow an elephant (the Costa Rican sign for “Warning! Major pothole!”)? That can either lead you to roll your eyes and cluck your tongue or it can make you laugh and recognize the world is a funny, wacky place and, sometimes, you just have to laugh, either because it’s actually funny or because, if you don’t, you’ll beat your head against the wall–doesn’t matter the reason, just do it. I promise it will always make you feel better!

6. As your dad and I tell you, you represent America, this is an honor so remember to be a positive example of our country to our host country. All three of you have been amazing at this, I am beyond proud of you for being aware that people will judge our country, and the people in it, based on your behavior. It’s not entirely fair but it is the reality of the situation. Keep up the good work!

7. Find a way to give back to your host country by volunteering or helping out in some way. It’s always good to bring more kindness and compassion to the world by giving the gifts each of you has to offer and I know you’ve all enjoyed doing this! I am so proud of your compassion and kindness and your willingness to share those things!

8. Living in a foreign country isn’t always easy, and it’s rarely simple, but people who don’t live the kind of life we live don’t always realize that. So when people look at you cross-eyed if you are venting a frustration, or talking about how you didn’t get enough sleep because the bar next door was so loud and the roosters kicked in right when it quieted down, or your morning was tough because we got caught in a monster traffic jam that turned the roads into a parking lot, try to remember that not everyone understands the unique challenges that go along with living overseas. You live in “paradise,” after all, so what the heck do you have to complain about? Everyone has bad days, and it’s okay to vent about them (necessary, even, because it’s a way to get it all out of your system so you can move on), whether you live in Costa Rica or Ireland or the US bad days will happen. Every post has its challenges and you know that creating a life in “paradise” is a lot different than taking a holiday there. So don’t take it personally if people don’t understand, or if they belittle your experiences because they don’t think you should be complaining when you live in “paradise,” just remember they have different life experiences. I encourage you to seek out people who understand your lifestyle and vent to them–they’ll get it and that’s all you’re asking. And don’t ever be hard on yourself for being frustrated or upset, it’s just part of being human.

9. Remember that you are you no matter where you have landed in the world. Hold on to your core, your beliefs, your center. I’m not saying don’t be open to change, it’s important to grow and change, but each of you has such a special core and remembering that is crucial. Your core, along with our family, gives you your stability and when everything around you spends so much time in a state of flux hanging on to who you are will make you solid. When we first moved here we faced a huge challenge with Aisleen being bullied–new country, new language, new culture, norms we weren’t used to, some negative things we weren’t prepared for. One of the ways our Aisleen, and our family as a whole, got through it was by being true to who we are and not adjusting our core beliefs to fit the situation. So stay true to yourselves, always.

10. Remember that our roots are portable. We live kind of a weird life, things happen in our lives that, when you stop and think about them, make you recognize our frame of reference is not the same as it would be if we were settled in a neighborhood in DC or Minneapolis. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. With our nomadic life comes a lot of goodbyes. And where is “home,” anyway? It’s so hard to be away from family that we love–both blood family and family that we’ve picked up along the way. I know that sometimes it feels like there are parts of you scattered all over the globe and that’s tough but we always, always have each other and we have proven time and again that our roots are like steel! In five months we will gently uncover those roots once more and move them to a new country. It will not be easy, we will have challenges, we will very much miss the people we’ve come to love here, but we will make it work, we always do. And Honduras will hold many more gifts for us as long as we’re open and willing to receive them, I promise this. Above all else, remember that your dad and I love all of you with our whole hearts and as long as we are together we will always be home.

All My Love,

Mom

By Way of Explanation, or Why Africa is Personal for Me

I’m feeling rather feisty today, more so than usual. Maybe it’s because I’m fighting off a cold/flu so I’m kind of in a mood. Maybe it’s because our foster kittens are battling their second round of coccidia and I’m freaked out (though, knock wood, we seem to have turned a corner). Maybe it’s because I’m feeling overwhelmed by the outrageous need I see every time I go to the back room of our vet’s clinic–animal after animal after animal dumped on her primarily because of someone else’s negligence and irresponsible behavior. There’s a blog in there about animals, it needs to percolate. But, for now, I’m kind of in the mood to sound off about something else that is tied in to “need” and touches a very personal nerve. Africa. Weird, maybe, but it is what it is.

Most people who know me know that we lived in Guinea, it was our first overseas post, baptism by fire we like to call it. Most people also know that we were evacuated from Guinea when the country erupted in civil unrest and violence. I’ve blogged about Guinea before (here, here, and here) and I’ve often thought I’d left Guinea in the past but I’m learning that will never happen and that’s not a bad thing. Certain places get under your skin and Guinea got under mine. I have no desire to live there again, though I would love to visit, so it’s not that I am missing it or pining for it. It’s just that I feel a loyalty towards it, towards the Guinean people, and towards Africa in general. I guess that will happen when your middle child went through a time in her life answering “I’m from Guinea!” when people asked her where her home is. I guess that will happen when you feel shell shocked moving to a new, very different, country and the thing that finally breaks through the shell shock and pulls you out of yourself is the kindness and the joy of the people who live there. And I guess that will happen when you see those same people suffer every single day from lack of water, electricity, proper nutrition, proper infrastructure, medical care, the list goes on, and it all results in otherwise healthy, vibrant people dying slowly and painfully.

I get frustrated because I feel like too few people pay attention to most of Africa, I guess South Africa is the exception to that rule. Africa is just this place that exists totally outside the frame of reference most people have. Guinea? Where’s that? So when someone has made it a life’s focus to draw attention to Africa, to the epidemics and poverty that exist there, and also to the profound spirit and vibrancy that runs parallel to those things, I feel loyalty to that person as well. My feisty rant today is rooted in some ragging on Bono that happened on my FB page. It honestly doesn’t bother me how people personally feel about him, or what they think about him, people are entitled to their opinions. I get that he has a massive ego, that he’s had tax issues, that he loves to run his mouth. I also get that he deserves a whole lot of credit for drawing attention to, and doing a lot of good for, a continent that most people don’t give a flying fuck about.  So no matter what his other faults are, what else he’s done, I kind of don’t care. What I DO care about is that there are people who are much better off because of him, that AIDS/HIV are weaker because of him, that people who have gone their whole lives without clean water have it because of him. And, granted, he’s not remotely the only one, and he hasn’t done this alone, but he has shown a tremendous amount of leadership, he’s used that big mouth of his to do a whole lot of good, and he has been a bridge between people who might not otherwise think about Africa and the African continent, her people, and her struggles.

I’m sure I’m garnering some eye rolling here, and I’m sure I feel so strongly about this because of my personal experience, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how much good is done by good people–regardless of their faults (and people are only human so they’re bound to have a whole lot of baggage). When things started really falling apart in Guinea our families were hard pressed to find news about it. People–children, ffs!– were being shot in the street for protesting peacefully and few people in the Western world were saying boo about it. After we left, and the civil unrest continued, there was a massive and peaceful march to the national stadium that turned into a horror show of people being shot, women being raped with the barrels of guns, civil society activists being taken by gun point. It was difficult to find out a lot of info on it in the mainstream media. Why? The ONLY conclusion I can draw is that people don’t care that much about Africa.

And it’s not just the violence, it’s the disease. Maybe Bono’s work in Africa touches me on a deeper level because I’ve lived in a country in Africa where diseases that have been pretty much eradicated in the Western world  are still killing people, where otherwise healthy, strong people are struck down by diseases that should no longer be strong enough to do that kind of damage. Malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, internal parasites that cause deadly diarrhea, the list goes on and on. It’s not right, IMO, that when something as simple as a bed net can prevent death, and someone makes it their mission to do things like raise money and awareness about the simplicity of solutions to very serious problems, that we focus on that person’s faults rather than on the profound good they’ve done. I am honestly not calling out anyone in particular because this is pretty widespread, it seems like every time I mention Bono someone around me rolls their eyes. I get not liking the man but why focus on that rather than the tremendous amount of good he’s done? Why can’t people just say “I think he’s an egotistical ass but, man, he’s done some damn good things for a place not many people notice.” Former President Bush isn’t exactly my favorite person in the world, I disagree pretty much with 99.9 % of his policies and I think he’s beyond vapid, but his policies towards Africa were relatively progressive and they did good and, for that, I will give his administration a lot of credit and a great big “thank you!”

I guess this goes along with my own struggle to focus on the positive, to push away cynicism, and to nurture those things in our kids as well. I found myself, for quite some time, drained by the negativity of focusing on less than perfect political policies, politicians, advocates, whatever, and ignoring the slow slog of good that less than perfect policies and people can do. So I decided to switch my focus, that’s just me, personally. But I kind of think it’s more important to focus on the awesome good that people put into this world than on the imperfections they– we– have. I’m not saying we shouldn’t call people out for being assholes, I just think that folks like Bono have balanced the scales a lot further towards good than towards evil and it’s nice to focus on that, and to acknowledge all the concrete and very tangible good he’s put into a continent far too many people ignore.

Also, I know from personal experience, he gives nice cheek kisses :-) And, for now, I will climb off my soapbox …

This was pretty cool

This was pretty cool

Find a Place You Love and Go There. A Lot.

One of my least favorite parts of moving frequently is leaving spots I absolutely adore– a particular beach, a special B & B, a park I enjoy. These are places where I can breathe deeply and center myself, where my shoulders climb down from the bottoms of my ears, I leave them feeling refreshed and ready to tackle life again. I have several of these places in Ireland, one of them is my very favorite spot on earth, the others always left me feeling pretty damn awesome too. It was tough to temporarily let go of those special spots when we moved but I sooth myself knowing that I will always return.

About a year after we moved here my husband and I were lucky enough to find our spot in Costa Rica, it immediately became our place and we can’t get enough of it. Vista del Valle Plantation Inn (which I’ve blogged about before here) is a gorgeous hotel tucked away from the noise and movement of San Jose, it’s very near to the airport but you may as well be in the middle of nowhere because it is absolute tranquility. Instead of rooms there are houses, which is something we prefer when we go on romantic getaways, some are small enough for one or two people and some are large enough for groups. We just returned from our fifth stay at Vista del Valle and, while relaxing on the porch of our casita, staring out over the valley, listening to all the sounds of the forest, a thought occurred to me–it’s time for me to give some unsolicited advice to people who are new to the Foreign Service. Here’s my unsolicited advice: wherever you move, find at least one place that feels like yours, one place where you can breathe deeply and just be. And go there as much as possible. Don’t feel guilty about spending the money, or leaving the kids, or informing houseguests that the price of admission is a weekend of babysitting, or taking a day off work –just go. There you can feel like you belong to a place, which isn’t always easy when you move around a lot, and feeling like you belong, like you have a place that speaks to you and you can put down the shield so many of us carry around because of the challenges of living overseas, is more important to sanity than I think is often realized.

The minute we pull into the winding driveway of Vista del Valle my husband and I both inhale and exhale deeply and audibly, our muscles begin to relax, and we are completely in that moment, savoring the joy we feel each time we return. We know its paths and trails well enough that we can stroll them in the dark, guided by the moon and the soft Japanese lanterns that line the trails, moving by feel, soaking in the night sounds. Our time there consists of whatever we want–reading, napping, enjoying the quiet. My hubby loves asking me “what are we going to do today?” and hearing me answer “whatever we want!” While we always feel like we belong with our family, that home is wherever we are and that our roots may be mobile but they are strong, it’s important to us to also have a place, a spot of earth where we feel physically like we belong. Each time I find one of those place in our travels I feel very blessed because I know they help me remember who I am, which sometimes gets lost when your sense of place is constantly changing. So find your spot, you’ll know it when you meet it, and return as often as you are able.

Next Summer we move to Honduras, and while I will miss Vista del Valle badly, I look forward to finding another special place. Until then, we will return to Vista as many times as we can–feel free to visit us here in Costa Rica knowing what the price of admission is! Of course, the photos …

Inside the Mona Lisa

Inside the Mona Lisa

Path from the Mona Lisa

Path from the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa, the other casita we've stayed in.

The Mona Lisa, one of two casitas we’ve stayed in.

Vista Del Valle May 2013 023

The resident cat, who is an absolute love

The resident cat, who is an absolute love

Christmas concert, Irazu, Vista del Valle 103 Christmas concert, Irazu, Vista del Valle 106

The porch of the Ilan Ilan, we've spent many hours sitting in those chairs.

The porch of the Ilan Ilan, we’ve spent many hours sitting in those chairs.

The outdoor shower in the Ilan Ilan, showering with a view of the valley is divine!

The outdoor shower in the Ilan Ilan, showering with a view of the valley is divine!

The Ilan Ilan

The Ilan Ilan

Christmas concert, Irazu, Vista del Valle 139

The path leading to the Ilan Ilan, one of the two casitas we've stayed in.

The path leading to the Ilan Ilan.

My hubby trying to coax the resident dog, also a love, to look my way.

My hubby trying to coax the resident dog, also a love, to look my way.

The view of the valley from the restaurant which, by the way, has fantastic food.

The view of the valley from the restaurant which, by the way, has fantastic food.

 

My Chelsea (Bradley) Manning Purge

Fair warning, this will be less blog and more rant but if I don’t get this out of my system I will become completely non-productive and I just have too much to do for that to happen. So … I swear to God, if I read the impassioned words of one more human rights activist who is defending Bradley (now Chelsea, so I will refer to her in the feminine from here on out) Manning I’m going to scream.

I’m curious to know what human rights activists who are defending Manning think about the fact that her actions have further exposed people around the globe who are also human rights activists–civil society activists, opponents of repressive regimes, people who risk everything to try to make their countries more just places. Their names were in the classified State Department cables and now any foreign service intelligence agency can see who they are, they are at great risk. Many already risk everything on a daily basis–their jobs, their freedom, the safety of their families, their lives–in order to try to make their countries more humane and just places. When they interact with the State Department their identities are classified for a reason and, for the sake of diplomacy as well as for their sake, they need to stay that way. Manning’s actions weren’t a precise revealing of war crimes, she made a massive document dump, an indiscriminate revealing of information that has now put at risk people whose anonymity needs to be protected. How are those the actions of a heroine and why is that something some human rights activists are applauding? I’m gobsmacked, seriously. Do they not realize how much more at risk those people now are? Are they not thinking past the headlines surrounding the now folk heroine? Are they just jumping on a bandwagon? Jesus. I expect more from organizations like Amnesty International and School of the Americas Watch (whose founder, Father Roy Bourgeois, is an absolute hero of mine). Shouldn’t they be more worried about protecting and advocating for the people Manning exposed? People whose lives are at actual risk? People who could be tortured and murdered, dumped by the side of the road? Their support of her makes me want to beat my head against a wall.

My personal pissed offness has also been focused on the fact that her actions potentially put at risk people like my husband and other diplomats, and her fellow soldiers. Yes, I realize it has been established that no evil things transpired because of the leaked cables but she did not know what she was revealing, she just did a flat out, no holds barred, dump and could have very easily revealed things that put those people at great risk–my inner mamma bear is poked big time when someone potentially puts my family at risk. Period. So there’s also that.

Manning is being treated as a heroine. She isn’t. She took an oath and part of that oath is to keep classified documents classified because they are classified for a reason. I have a husband with a security clearance and I have never, not once ever, asked him to reveal anything to me. I wouldn’t do that. Nor would he, not in a million years, reveal anything to me. Because he took an oath, because it’s his job, his career, his duty to our country and, if at any time he felt he couldn’t uphold that duty to the absolute highest standard, he would resign. If you feel, morally, you cannot believe in the oath you take when you have a job like Manning’s then step down and I will applaud your moral strength and integrity. Until that point, do your freaking job because lives actually do depend on it.

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