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ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

Archive for the category “Foreign Service Life”

Cave Spiders, Headache Herbs, and Elephant Ears — Oh My!

I’ve been meaning to blog about the last trip we took to what has become our go to weekend destination, Lago Yojoa, except life kept getting in the way. But if I don’t send out family-focused blogs now and again grandparents get twitchy and nobody wants that!

Yajoa has become our go-to weekend destination — it’s only a few hours away and the roads to the lake are good. Also, why wouldn’t you want to spend as much time as possible here …

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Normally we stay at the absolutely awesome D & D Lodge but my dad was visiting so we wanted to rent a house and we snagged this one at the coffee finca next to the D & D . The house is on stilts and it was fun to feel like we were sleeping in the trees!

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There are beautiful trails in the finca, which we always enjoy exploring!

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This time we found a gorgeous blue lagoon!

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D & D offers fun excursions and we decided to take a day long hike to a cave up in the mountains. Quite some time ago, when the Peace Corps still existed in Honduras, a volunteer, together with people who live in communities in the mountains, organized a tourism co-op. Once the volunteer left, the co-op continued on and D & D works with the local guides when they have visitors who want to find a bit of adventure.

Ours began with a ride in the back of a pickup. The kids thought that was pretty much the coolest thing ever, I was only slightly terrified because what could go wrong while riding in the back of a pickup truck up steep, muddy, mountain roads, right?

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There were some spots in the road that were extra rough so we got out an hoofed it behind the truck.

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Eventually we got to the point in the road where the truck just couldn’t go so the hike began. 12977161_10154092814892766_4350789952320006940_o

Our first stop was a spot where folks gather the coffee beans and ginger they pick in the mountains. So. Much. Coffee.

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And then we started our climb up into the jungle!

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Along the way our amazing guide, Dennis, taught us about the local plants and what their different uses were. It looks like Liam isn’t too sure about the taste of this one …

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But he was totally down with the one that cures headaches!

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Dennis also picked some very yummy citrus fruit for our snack!

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And, fortified, the hike continued!

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Eventually we reached the cave, as you can see everyone was quite chuffed! Okay, just Liam, I think the others were just happy to have arrived.

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I’m going to stop here and say I love caves — when they have interior lighting and you don’t have to noticeably descend while you’re in them. As you can see, there were no lights in the cave and the reason everyone is looking down is because they were watching Dennis climb down the rickety, wooden ladder that took you deeper into the cave.

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Eric and I were more than a little nervous about our kids going down the ladder and deeper into the cave. Our youngest was gung-ho from the beginning, he tends to be rather fearless. The older two were a tad uncertain but, in the end, decided they wanted to do it. Eric and I talked it over — firmly on the side of “no” at first and then realized, why the hell are we in Honduras if we won’t let the kids go on adventures like this? So, down the ladder everyone climbed! Lago Yojoa Jan2015 100Lago Yojoa Jan2015 107Lago Yojoa Jan2015 103

We explored the main section a bit and decided it was wise to not go any deeper since we had only flashlights, but it was pretty cool to wander about, at least until Aisleen came within a hair’s breath of putting her hand on this spider

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She had been chatting away until Dennis got her attention and told her not to run her hand along the wall, which she’d been doing as she talked. Then he shined his light at the spot right in front of where her hand had been, I was certain her screams were going to cause a cave in — she and I have a spider thing and this guy was the size of Eric’s hand (he’s nearly 6’5 so you have an idea of how big the spider was).

We decided it was time to head back and have lunch so we said goodbye to the cave

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and headed down the mountain, stopping for some freshly picked bananas along the way!

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Of course, it started to rain because — jungle. But that’s what the huge leaves, called Elephant Ears among other things, are for!

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The hike ended at Dennis’ house where his lovely family hosted us for lunch. We were tired, a little muddy …

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but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! Despite the look on Ry’s face here …

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After lunch we climbed into the truck and headed back to D & D!

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The next day, before heading home, we took a morning hike through the national park down the road from D & D, where there are Lenca ruins. This is a spot we always hike when we come to Yojoa because it’s so gorgeous — also pretty cool to think about walking in the footsteps of the Lenca.

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This was a wonderful adventure for us, complete with doing something that was a bit frightening but, as we say in running, the only way to get comfortable in your discomfort zone is to spend time there! Also, we’ve decided to take advantage of the fact that Honduras is a hardship post and we, therefore, have the option to extend our assignment for a year. So we’re here for another nearly two and a half years — loads of time to find more adventures!

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A Long Awaited Trip to El Salvador

Ever since I was a girl I’ve wanted to go to El Salvador. Probably not for the same reasons other kids wanted to go places — or even the same reasons I wanted to go other places.

In 1980 four American Catholic women were raped and murdered in El Salvador by members of the National Guard.

The victims were 49-year-old Maura Clarke, and 40-year-old Ita Ford, Maryknoll sisters from New York; Dorothy Kazel, a 40-year-old Ursuline nun from Cleveland; and Jean Donovan, a 27-year old lay missionary who was engaged to be married, also from Cleveland.

These were women who were working with people who feared for their lives every day, people who were targeted by their own government because they were fighting for a better future for their children. As a child I was appalled that women who wanted nothing other than to help people had been raped and murdered by men who should have been protecting them. I found out that my own government was funding those men, funding the government that was targeting its people, and that knowledge sparked what became a longtime involvement in seeking social justice in Central America.

When we first started our journey in the Foreign Service the country we really wanted to serve in was Guatemala — it was a country I’d been to as a girl and one I’d completely fallen in love with, as I’ve blogged about before. But, as with all things Foreign Service, it wasn’t up to us and we ended up in Guinea, a first post that brought us both joy and profound loss but taught us a lot about who we are.

Fast forward to now, to Honduras. I loved living in Costa Rica but it didn’t feel like the Central America I remembered from my childhood. But Honduras? I’ve fallen in love with this region all over again and love that we can easily travel within it. I’ve just discovered that I neglected to blog about the trip we took to Guatemala, where we stayed in the lovely village of Flores and where we were able to introduce our children to the majesty of the Mayan world when we took them to Tikal. Their shouts of excitement when they first spotted the ruins as we walked through the jungle brought a huge smile to my face because the first time I saw those ruins I was just a girl — and I remember that awe I felt at the hugeness of the pyramids. I remember how amazing it was to me that I was walking in the footsteps of an ancient people. And I saw that same amazement on the faces of our children. Being able to share that with them was such a gift. I need to blog about that trip.

Anyway — El Salvador. A few weeks ago we rented a house on Playa El Cuco, El Salvador. The children were giggling at me as we neared the border of El Salvador because I was squealing with delight while repeating “I can’t believe I’m finally going to El Salvador!” We crossed the border with ease and, by looking around, you never would have guessed you were in a country that had relatively recently experienced a brutal civil war.

We spent the next few days in a state of relaxation — mornings swimming in the ocean, afternoons lounging in hammocks with books or playing football in the pool, evenings with local beer and beautiful sunsets. I think sometimes our children forget they don’t need the internet and video games in order to be entertained and seeing them spend hours curled up with books was so nice. And Playa Cuco is absolutely beautiful!

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View of our house from the beach

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Playa El Cuco

The kids had so much fun playing in the ocean and the pool, being able to just step out the back door and have the ocean right there was amazing!

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Walking to the beach

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The children waiting on the waves

 

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Ry body surfing

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Liam and Aisleen playing in the waves

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Eric and Aisleen headed back to the house

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The pool was a fantastic place to escape the heat of the day

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As were the hammocks

Once the heat of the day was over the beach was the perfect place for football!

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Ry waiting on the football

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Liam catching the football

And the sunset from our house, through the palm trees, was gorgeous!

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Mornings on Playa El Cuco are equally gorgeous

We spent a lot of time at Playa Intipuca, the next beach over from Playa El Cuco and at La Tortuga Verde, a hotel that also has a fantastic restaurant with so many vegetarian options — our kids were in heaven. And, this …

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Surfboards for rent, $10/per hour or $30 for the day!

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A refresher course, our kids did an all day surf camp when we lived in Costa Rica

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Ry takes it into shore with his instructor cheering him on

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Ry

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Aisleen up on the board

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Liam on the board

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Because carrying a surfboard increases your cool factor by, like, a zillion

And because they had so much fun we went back in the afternoon and rented boards

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This was a nice way to spend our last night in El Salvador

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Did I mention the sunsets are amazing?

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The next morning we had one last breakfast at La Tortuga Verde and said goodbye to Playa El Cuco and Play Intipuca. But only for a little while because we’re going back as soon as possible!

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La Tortuga Verde

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Playa Intipuca

 

 

Why I Can’t Quite Bring Myself to Visit My Favorite Village

We have lived in Honduras for a little over one year now and we have visited some truly gorgeous places. Honduras, as I’ve written before, gets a bit of a bad rap, but it’s a country I’ve come to love. To me Honduras doesn’t represent violence and poverty. It represents natural beauty, warm people, fascinating history, and friendship — here are a few places we’ve been that I will always associate with those things.

Lago Yojoa, which we visited for the first time this past January, is a place we immediately fell in love with.

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Lago Yajoa is stunning and one of the things we love about it is that there are Lenca ruins, and a eco-park with beautiful hiking, right next to it. The only thing wrong with the first trip we took there was that it was very rainy every day of our visit, except for the day we left (of course).

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So we decided we needed to go back and see the lake when it wasn’t fogged in.

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What a difference the sun makes!

My dad and our youngest walking through the eco-park

My dad and our youngest walking through the eco-park

We discovered there are more Lenca ruins at a Finca near the lodge where we stayed

This is an old Lenca ball court. Archaeologists believe, because the Lenca pre-date the Maya, that the Lenca actually invented the infamous ball games the Maya played.

This is an old Lenca ball court. Archaeologists believe, because the Lenca pre-date the Maya, that the Lenca actually invented the infamous ball games the Maya played.

We climbed a nearby mountain called Las Nalgas or, The Buttcheeks. It’s self-explanatory

Las Nalgas

Las Nalgas

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Climbing up the mountain

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The view from the top

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Our youngest walking back to our lodge with our fantastic guide

There was much silliness from the kids

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“When I say ‘no, you can’t take my picture’ I mean ‘no, you can’t take my picture.'”

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Even at 14 he still wants to be an explorer

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“I know you said it was too cold to go swimming, mom, but I did it and I’M FREEZING!”

And, there was beer. Because the lodge where we stayed is also a Brewery

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The other place we really enjoyed was Tela, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast.

A good time was had by all, though Firu made it quite clear that he had no intention of entering the water.

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Tela March 2015

Tela

Racing on the beach

Racing on the beach

A face that just screams WHEEEEEE!

A face that just screams WHEEEEEE!

She makes a floaty out of her rash guard.

She makes a floaty out of her rash guard. Every. Time.

Chasing the man selling coconuts

Chasing the man selling coconuts

Sunset on Tela

Sunset on Tela

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There’s one more place very close to home that I’ve come to love, a small Colonial village called Valle de Angeles, about a half hour drive from our home. Valle has two things — the village and the entrance to a lush national park where there is fantastic hiking. This is a place I can’t wait to get back to.

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Valle de Angeles

My kids are goofballs

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Seriously, goofballs

Then there is the town of Valle de Angeles, or Valley of the Angels.

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Valle de Angeles

Where you can buy fresh papusas — a little slice of heaven.

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Have coffee in this very cool coffe house, Cafe Las Estancia.

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Have lunch at Las Abuelas restaurant

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Or just wander through the lovely central square.

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Valle de Angeles represents friendship to me. And I can’t bring myself to go there right now. Because everything about it hurts a little — the cool coffee house, Las Abuelas restaurant, the central square, even the damn papusas. And please don’t mention iron because I’ll probably burst into tears. Trust me on this. It all stings because it was the place that was “the place” my closest friend here and I would go. We’d frequently message each other “Valle this week?” and the other would always respond with an enthusiastic “YES!” Always through messaging because she knows I hate to talk on the phone and she respects my quirks. She gets my quirks. It’s one of the reasons she’s an amazing friend. And everything there, everything, reminds me of her. There is so much to love about being a nomad — but saying goodbye to friends blows. It’s the friendships that are, all at once, beautiful and painful. I am an introvert, a shy introvert, a shy introvert who isn’t crazy about being around people I don’t know. But from the very first moment I met my friend I knew I’d met someone I would adore. The second time we met up I knew I’d found a soulmate. In part because she told me the story about how she’d used a wildly raunchy Spanish word, thinking it meant something else, for about her first year in Honduras. And the fact that she could say that word to me, in English, without even breaking a blush told me, “yep, this woman is part of my tribe.” She became, over the course of a year, a soul sister.

She and her family moved, on to their next post, while we were home in the U.S this summer. As much as I was looking forward to coming home to Honduras I was dreading them not being here. Her oldest and our youngest were inseparable, and I knew the loss, when he saw that his friend really was gone, was going to hit him hard. And it has.

And me? Most of the time I’m okay — though yesterday I had a million things I wanted to tell her and had to stop myself from messaging her every five minutes. But sometimes, I’m not okay. Sometimes I think of her and burst into tears. And I know, for now, I’m not quite ready to walk the cobblestone streets of Valle without her.

Choosing to Listen to My Immature Dark Angel

This past weekend we made our first overnight trip in Honduras to magical Lake Yojoa, Honduras’ largest lake. While driving through the countryside from Tegucigalpa to Yojoa I found myself thinking “I am so grateful that we ended up in this country.” Its natural beauty, its warm people, its rich and ancient history, I love it. And I’d come very close to letting my fear deprive me of discovering that.

When Eric initially floated the idea of bidding on Honduras I laughed and laughed and laughed. Are you off your nut???? I’m not moving my children to the murder capitol of the world! No way. No how. Not happening. Cross it off the list. Then my inner voice spoke up …

“Heather, you traveled to Guatemala on your own during the height of the civil war when you were 18!”

“So?”

“The State Department issued a travel warning for Americans while you were there, given the chance to leave you decided to stay!”

“And?”

“They named that August “Black August” because of all the bodies that were being found!”

“Your point being?”

“That you had some of the most incredible experiences of your life! What would you have missed if you’d let fear determine your actions?”

“This is not that. I was young then, I didn’t have kids to think about, this is a completely different situation. I need to be practical and, practically speaking, it’s not worth the risk.”

“Pffffft …you’ve clearly grown old and boring and I’m leaving now …”

“Fine, do that, nobody needs an immature dark angel on their shoulder anyway.”

Deal done, decision made. Except it wasn’t.

Central America was a place that got under my skin at a early age. When I was 15 my family and I took a trip along the “Ruta Maya,” traveling from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, through Guatemala, into Belize, and then looping back. We took the rickety buses the locals traveled in because the aim was to encounter the fewest number of gringos possible, getting to know the countries and the people along the way. At first I cursed the experience …

“Dad, what are we doing? I have a chicken in my lap and I think this bus is close to dying. Why can’t we go to Cancun and stay in a resort?”

“That’s boring, that is exciting! What’s the point in traveling to a different country if you’re just going to surround yourself with other Americans?”

“This isn’t a vacation, it’s work! Why can’t we go to Disneyland, like a normal family?”

“Because I’m trying to raise you right.”

And, of course, he knew what he was talking about.

We swam in underground cenotes, explored Mayan ruins, had a few close calls with guerillas and soldiers, and had the time of our lives! We weren’t afraid, though we were careful, and the richness and depth with which we lived our lives increased in countless ways. So when my dad gave me the choice between a high quality camera and a trip to language immersion school in Quetzaltenengo, Guatemala for my high school graduation present it was an easy choice–next stop, Guatemala! Of course, this was a decision I was kicking myself for making when my grand adventure was finally underway. I landed in Guatemala City, all excited to be an “adult,” traveling on my own, can’t stop me now, world, I’m on fire! Until I discovered that nobody from my school was there to pick me up. What’s a girl to do? First, fight back the tears, try to look brave, not vulnerable– inside I was utterly panicked. The police officers with sub-machine guns, the taxi drivers and money changers calling to me, the darkness of a city I hadn’t been to in years, all made me feel less adult and more “I want my daddy.” But, I couldn’t stand there all night, I had to do something. I put one foot in front of the other and began to walk towards a taxi whose driver looked friendly.

I had the name of a hotel written down where the school, I’d been told, had a standing reservation for their students, so I hopped in his cab, gave him the name of the hotel, and hoped for the best. Once at the hotel I was feeling pretty darn proud of myself for making it that far, and relieved that I had someplace to spend the night. Whew! I’m on fire again, world, lighting it up … that’s the point when the man at the front desk doused me with a healthy dose of water. “Standing reservation, ” I said, and he looked at me with confusion, informing me nope, not so much. Then it went like this …

“Well, do you have a room available?”

“The only room we have is a double and there is only one of you.”

“Um, but I’ll pay for it, I don’t mind.”

“No, it’s for two people.”

“But what does it matter that it’s a double when I’m willing to pay as if I am two people?”

“Because you’re only one person.”

“Can’t you just pretend like there are two of me?”

“There’s only one of you, the room is a double.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense!”

Shrug, “There is only one of you.”

“But I’ll pay for two!”

“But there is only one of you.”

Dear God, get me off this evil merry-go-round.

I stared at him in disbelief, he sighed as if I were the stupidest person on the planet and said “look, if two people don’t come in within an hour I’ll rent you the room.”

I nodded, picked up my backpack, and went to wait. My veneer of self-confidence was beginning to crack as I sat there and thought about what I would do if two people came and took the room. It was very late, I was exhausted, in a city where I couldn’t just walk out the door and find a hotel, and I knew I would be screwed without that room. So I did what any self-respecting, confident young woman would do under those circumstances–I held my head up high, marched straight to the man at the desk, plopped my money down in front of him, and demanded the key! Kind of. I burst into tears, sobs of loneliness and fear, shoulders shaking with the force of it all. The desk man from beyond the looking glass appeared shocked at first, then his face clearly said “make it stop!” and he told me he enough time had passed, I could have the room. I sniffed, eyes full of tears, nodded, thanked him, paid him, and made my way to the room, which was a bed in a tiny space with a door that didn’t lock. I tucked my backpack under the bed, made sure my money belt was secure around my waist, and fell asleep, straddling gratitude and fear.

The next morning I showered in the shared bathroom, made my way downstairs, caught a taxi to the bus station, and hopped a bus to Quetzaltenengo. Hot damn, can’t stop me now, world!

In the end, the trip changed my life in a way a life can only change when you’re 18 and on your own in a foreign land. I studied Spanish with a tutor several hours a day and, on the weekends, traveled, either with the school or with friends. I hiked through a rainforest, visited a squatter’s camp outside Guatemala City full of some of the bravest and most resilient people I’d ever met, wandered colonial cities, visited villages that rarely saw Americans, got lost a bit, learned about the people’s struggle for land and dignity, and discovered that I was stronger and more resourceful than I’d ever known.

So when I really thought about Honduras, and moving there, I thought about that girl and all she did during a month that changed her life, then I held my breath and though, Honduras or bust!

We’ve been here about five months now and I haven’t regretted our decision to move here even once. So when Eric and I were sitting in the restaurant of the lodge where we stayed during our trip to Lake Yojoa, talking to the lodge’s guide, and he asked how we liked Honduras I was very enthusiastic in my answer: “we LOVE it!” He smiled and asked how it compared to what American’s know of it from the news, which, of course, only talks about the violence. We told him it wasn’t anything like what most Americans think. He said that it makes him sad that so many people think of Honduras only as a place of violence and drugs because he loves his country, his country is beautiful, full of rich history, and people don’t give it a chance because of the misconceptions that surround it. I agreed with him, in part because I’d been guilty of that myself.

All of this–my experiences in Guatemala each time I went there, my experiences in other countries where we’ve traveled, our time in Honduras, our lives as nomads, it all got me thinking about fear and how, so often, we allow fear to be the deciding factor in our lives. It comes in many forms; fear of the unknown, fear based on one-dimensional pictures of a place or a person, fear of failure, fear of taking that first leap, fear of being vulnerable, but it all ends the same way, in deprivation.

So when we were hiking through Los Naranjos park, which borders Lake Yojoa, walking in the footsteps of the ancient Lenca tribe, among their unexcavated buildings, marveling with our kids about the mysteries buried beneath the ground, about the lush forest, my inner voice spoke up again, “Heather, thank goodness you listened to your immature dark angel because … This. Is. Awesome!”

Lake Yojoa

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There is a lake out there, you’re gonna have to trust me on that …

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The boardwalk leading through the forest

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A Lenca statue outside the museum in the park

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Unexcavated Lenca ruins

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The mounds of ruins

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Lenca ruins

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I Made a Pretty! And I Really Needed to do That.

I’ve been living the perfect storm of “how best to frustrate and paralyze Heather” lately. Since we left Costa Rica, we have been dealing with some pretty jaw dropping monetary charges from our landlord, he gave the bill to the embassy and they, in turn, kindly handed a large portion of it to us. I don’t want to blog about that until it’s done and dusted, some things are best left unwritten until sorted, suffice it to say it’s been stressful.

Add that to the fact that our sweet labrador has been sick for about six months and all the tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, and blood work can’t seem to tell us what is wrong, the only thing we know is that her white blood count is through the roof, despite rounds of different antibiotics, and she has lost a scary amount of weight.

We’re trying to settle into a new country, one we love so far with a fantastic embassy that has been good to us, but there are always hiccups, especially with kids trying to transition into a new school, and especially when they loved their last school. So that’s had some tough aspects.

Then, almost two weeks ago, we got the news that my grandfather passed away, and that was a punch in my gut that sent me into a tailspin, I cannot articulate what he meant to me and how much I love him. I held it together while our daughter and I went home for his funeral, because, at that point, you just put one foot in front of the other and move forward. My saving grace was running, which is even more enjoyable in a place as beautiful and runner friendly as Minneapolis. On my runs I felt cleansed– in the rain, in the cold, just me, the changing leaves, and miles of trails.

Kenilworth Trails, Minneapolis

Kenilworth Trails, Minneapolis

Then, somewhere in the last minutes of my last run, something happened to my right foot, not sure what yet but I’ve been treating it very kindly. I’ve already gone through a stress fracture in my left foot, I’m hoping it’s not that because, been there, done that, it sucked hard. And Heather without the therapy that running provides is not remotely pretty, I’m shocked the kids haven’t taken their chances on the mean streets of Tegucigalpa at this point, poor babies. One of my closest friends put this on my FB wall the other day, she knows me well …

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I’ve held it together this week while Eric has been on a really poorly timed business trip (planned months ago and not something he could get out of) but I’ve just been going through the motions, if it wasn’t for the kids and our sick dog I’m thinking the odds are pretty good that some mornings I would have been happier to stay under my fluffy comforter and snuggle with our cats.

We’ve been in a temporary house since we arrived at post in August, which has been a little trying, and yesterday Eric told me we finally have a date for moving into our permanent one. Instead of feeling happy I just didn’t feel much, which is unusual. Then it started to feel overwhelming, just one more thing we had to do, which is also unusual because I love doing the whole making a house a home thing.

This afternoon I was limping around the house, feeling foggy and cranky, when I spotted the swath of fabric that I’d ordered to reupholster our dining room chairs because this is what they look like in their natural state …

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No. Just, no.

and I thought “what the hell.” I loaded up my staple gun, very wary of it because I have seen WAY to many horror movies and, also, I’m kind of a klutz. When I’d told Eric that I’d ordered a staple gun he looked a little horrified, I’m sure he thought I was going to end up stapling at least one finger to a chair but … BAM!

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Two waterproof, washable, happy chairs AND, total bonus, I still have all my fingers intact, which is pretty exciting! I think sometimes it’s good to get lost in simple things, get out of your brain and just be, and I’ve always enjoyed getting lost in a task. So maybe spending some time cutting and pulling and stapling was exactly what I needed to feel more like Heather, at least for a little bit. All the rest of it will still be there when I’m ready to go back to it but, for now, I’m going to enjoy my pretty chairs. I still have eight more to do, just waiting on the fabric to get here, so safe money is that I will end up in the ER before this project is done, I can nearly guarantee that Eric will start a betting pool if anyone is interested…

The Poetic Nomad: a Flash of Light, a Gift from My Daughter

I understand that wishes will not always come true

I say that if you believe in it, it will happen

I dream of lifting my roots, walking away from the damp soil that keeps me down

Those words are from a poem that our eleven year old daughter wrote last night for her English class. I think I’ve read it fifty times, the first few times my eyes filled with tears. I’ve been worried about her since we moved here, leaving SEAS, our beloved school in San Jose, was painful, is painful. In SEAS, she was on firm ground. There, she knew everyone, was friends with everyone, adored her teachers, and felt safe and loved. Here, everything is new, it doesn’t feel safe yet, and we’ve had more than a few tear filled conversations that consist of her telling me how much she hates it here and how she just wants to go back. “Please, mommy, can’t we just go back?” On the surface I am steadfast, under it my heart aches for her and wishes I could whisk her off to the place she wants to be.

It is trying to move to a new country, to settle into a new school, to make friends, get to know your teachers, get a new routine down. And she has started middle school, which is a substantial transition in and of itself. She’s straddling two worlds right now–one where she is still a kid and one where she is becoming a young adult, she would prefer to have her feet firmly planted in the place where she is still a kid. She was telling me that part of the difficulty she is having is because “all the girls in my grade act like they’re so grown up! But they’re really just kids! I don’t feel any different than I did when I was in fifth grade, I just want to be a kid!” Yes, be a kid, kid. Please, stay a kid for as long as you can, don’t be in a rush to grow up, this is best for you. But I gently remind her that everyone is different and that those girls are just trying to figure out who they are, we do that by exploring, putting on different masks, trying on different personas. It’s a normal part of growing up, and it exasperates her. She knows who she is, she knows what she likes, she just wants to be Aisleen.

And Aisleen is disorganized, which she comes by honestly–ahem. We’ve been working on different ways to help both of us be more organized, some things are working and that is a relief. But the lack of organization has meant some assignments were not being done or, if done, not being turned in. Which compounded her frustrations and grief, it’s hard enough to do everything she is doing but when you feel like you’re moving backwards frustrations loom larger.

Up until last night Aisleen had yet to truly be sparked by anything at school, but, last night, she sat at the computer and wrote enthusiastically, thinking out loud about words she could use, asking us for meanings and context, and I was thrilled! She loves to learn, she loves the challenge of school, she loves to delve into projects that engage her and help her grow. She had two assignments to finish, one was a poem imagining herself as a willow tree, and one was to write a diary entry from the perspective of a character in a book the class had just read.

When she finished the poem she first showed it to Eric, I could tell from his reaction that it was a special piece of writing. She handed it to me and I read, curled up on our sofa, the incense I had lit drifting past my nose, my glass of wine untouched as I sat completely entranced by her poem. My eyes filled with tears, I read it a second time, then a third. Then I placed the paper in my lap, looked up at my magnificent daughter, and said “wow.” She smiled and replied “did you like it?” I looked at her with complete astonishment and told her it was an incredible piece. Just, wow. Her smile grew larger before she went back to writing her diary entry. Eric and I looked at each other with disbelief on our faces. We have always known she is creatively gifted, she’s been weaving stories since we was old enough to talk, and then to write. She has notebooks full of characters that live in lands she has invented, their lives are rich and adventurous. This poem, and the diary entry that followed, showed us that she is coming into her own.

I Am, by Aisleen

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I wonder if I will be able to graze with the buffalo that live on the plains

I hear the morning birds sing their sweet, calming song

I see the butterflies fluttering around the field of grass that surrounds me

I want to be free like the animals that sleep at my roots during the cold, harsh winter nights

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I pretend to be free with the deer, the grass tickling my feet every step

I feel as if I will leave one day, never to return to the soil that keeps me from my dreams

I touch the wind that hits my face as a gust of wind floods over the farm

I worry that my beliefs of being free with the world will never come true

I cry when I think about being cut down, the advantage of leaving, never coming to be

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I understand that wishes will not always come true

I say that if you believe in it, it will happen

I dream of lifting my roots, walking away from the damp soil that keeps me down

I try to make the dream come true, walking, flying, adventuring with the animals

I hope that I can explore the world, see the countries many miles from where I stand

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

Every parent has doubts; we doubt the disciplines we use, we worry if we shower them with too much praise or too little, we have those nagging thoughts tinkering in the back of our minds–are we doing right by our kids? What if we aren’t? What path are we setting them on? When you are the parent of nomads there is an additional layer of doubt–am I asking too much of them? Should we call an end to this and settle down? Which way is right for them? And then there are those flashes that tell you, yes, they are okay, more than okay, they are thriving, and those flashes are gifts. For me, this poem is one of those flashes. In it I see a girl who is wise beyond her years, a girl with roots who recognizes that there is much more to this world than what is outside her bedroom window, so much beauty to soak in, and she recognizes that the journey she is on is full of endless possibilities. I feel abundantly blessed that I will witness her walk her path and whether she becomes a writer, a teacher, a veterinarian, or a stay at home mom she is bound for greatness and her spirit, full of grace and recognizing no boundaries, will not settle for less.

Gramps: By Aisleen

I miss my Gooseberry. I miss the smell of her every night in bed, and how her sweet voice whispered in my ear telling me how much she loved me. She had the most angelic voice. Her words on our marriage day, “I do” echo around my head. Her pale, wrinkled skin, how my fingers felt when I touched it, I felt like if you offered me to stand there and touch her arm forever, I would accept it in a heartbeat. Her grey hair, oh how it shined all day, it would reflect of the sunlight, and would glisten in the brightness of the moon. Her smell was indescribable, how it would dance through my nostrils. I can still smell it in our marriage bed, in the pillow, in her suitcase. I could smell it whenever I went to her grave. Her eyes, oh how I miss them. Her beautiful eyes would sparkle whenever she looked at me, I could see my reflection, as if they were a stream in an evergreen forest. When we kissed, I could taste her cherry lip-gloss, I would hate to admit, but I put it on at night to make me feel like she is there with me, in bed, her arms wrapped around me. Oh, how I want to have her back with me, enjoying the pleasant breeze on the farm, the sun shining down on us.

I have a new dog named Huzza-Huzza. I named his after Gooseberry. Huzza-Huzza and I sit in the back of the car while my Chickabiddy drives around the fields. Driving over bumps, grass, and dirt. As I sit in the back I pet Huzza-Huzza, his short, silky fur under my fingers as I smoke my pipe. It reminds me of the trip Gooseberry , Chickabiddy, and I took, around the United States when we went to visit Chickabiddy’s mom. Sadly, I could not see her grave, since I had to stay back with Gooseberry.

Chickabiddy’s friends are coming over to stay with us for a little while. I have heard so much about them. They sound like magnificent friends to Salamanca. I have been staying up at night because of the delight. Ben sounds like a wonderful, smart boy, and how I am so happy that he and Salamanca are together, and Phoebe sounds like a blast, her life sounds like a roller coaster, excitement, hilarity, sadness, thoughtfulness, uncertainty, anger, but I shall stop with that for if I kept going it would be as long as a ray of sunshine coming from the rising sun reflecting on a beach. Apparently, her English teacher might also be coming. It warms my heart to see my Chickabiddy ricocheting off the walls of the house. Oh how I wish my Gooseberry could be here for such an exhilarating time.

My Top 10 List of the Merits of Growing Up Global

I was messaging with one of my dearest friends the other night, an American woman who lives in Costa Rica, and she asked if I’d ever written a blog about the advantages of growing up global. Which I haven’t, and which I thought was a fantastic idea (thank you, M!), so this will be my list. I’d like to preface it by saying my point is not at all that growing up global is superior to growing up local, I could just as easily write a list of the merits of growing up in one place but that’s not our life so, write about what you know, right?

1: So many possibilities for a layered sense of empathy and compassion: By layered I mean talking to them about empathy and compassion, and then immersing them in situations where these things are called for, drives the lessons home hard. I think of the posts we’ve had in countries with a lot of poverty as empathy immersion school, unless you shelter children from what is around them (and that’s not a choice we make) it becomes very real for them what living in poverty really means.

When we lived in Guinea our oldest played street soccer with the neighborhood children and, in our neighborhood, that meant children who lived in shacks and wore tattered flip flops. Liam knew the children he played with lived a very different life from him, he knew their toys were made from recycled rubbish, he knew food was often scarce, he knew their chances of getting sick were far greater than his. So when we were living in Dublin and preparing for his eighth birthday I asked him “what would you think about having your friends bring presents for Guinean children instead of for you?” and he answered “momma, I have so much and they have so little, I don’t need more” so that’s what happened. The look on his face when we boxed everything up and sent it off to a friend to distribute, was priceless–he took such joy and satisfaction in what he and his friends had done, and he knew in a very tangible way the differences these gifts would make.

2: A concrete understanding that the world is a diverse place: It’s hard to live in so many different countries as a child and not know that our world is vast, and has so much incredible and beautiful diversity. Kids growing up global have endless opportunities to experience different languages, cultures, accents, art, music, history, food, religion, and so much more. And, honestly, it makes my job as a parent ten times easier because all I have to do to teach them this stuff is take their hands and walk out the front door so bonus for me.

3: Extra chances to commune with, and gain respect for, our natural world: From the forest regions of Guinea, to the Mediterranean beauty of Malta, the eerie peacefulness of an Irish bog, the serenity of Lake Superior in the Summer, and the wonders of the Costa Rican cloud forest, our kids have had so many chances because of our nomadic lives to experience the natural world. I think it’s sometimes easy to get disconnected from nature, no matter where you live, and being able to take our kids to so many different places has been a gift for them and for us and, I believe, has helped to nurture the respect and love they have for our planet.

4: Extra chances to go to important historical sites: It’s hard to not experience history firsthand when you’re in a country that is steeped in it. A prime example of this for us is when we took the kids to Rome. We spent a week wandering the city, in absolute awe. Our kids, who all love history, were totally blown away by the fact that they were walking in ancient footsteps. At one point we visited a church which was built on top of an older church, which was built on top of an even older church, which was built on top of ancient streets. We wandered down, down, down beneath the the city, until we reached the bottom and were walking through what had been houses in Ancient Rome. There was still a spring-fed aqueduct that ran through the houses, supplying them all with crisp, fresh water. We stood back as our children approached the water, their faces full of wonder, we watched as they slowly immersed their hands, squealing and exclaiming with delight, knowing they were touching history. Now that we’re in Maya country we already have trips to Tikal in Guatemala and Chichen Itza and Tulum in Mexico on the burners, I think our kids are going to pop from excitement when they see those ruins.

5: If you’re very lucky, and we were, you’ll get a chance to introduce your kids to their own roots, for us, this was Ireland: One of the challenges of raising nomads is helping them understand that being nomadic doesn’t mean being rootless, and this is something we’ve worked really hard on. This came ten times more easily to us when we drove to Belmullet in County Mayo, where my family is from and where we still have cousins. One of the things we did was all load into the car with my cousin Joe, who is my grandmother’s first cousin. We drove slowly along the wild Atlantic coast, stopping in front of a traditional cottage that had long ago been turned into an outbuilding. Joe told us what it was, I turned to the children, saying “kids, this is where your great-great grandmother was born and raised” and their collective response was “whoa!” We went back to Mayo many times, most recently on a trip from Costa Rica, and each time we go we bring flowers to the graves of their great-great-great grandparents, which is pretty cool. For me to be able to say to our kids “this is it, kiddos, this is where your roots first took hold, this is the land that is inside of you” and for them to be able to bend down, rake their fingers through the sand, walk the land their great-great grandparents, and their parents, and beyond, walked, is nothing short of incredible.

6: Understand that just because a friend is far away doesn’t mean the friendship is over: It’s tough, like really tough, to leave behind friends and family you love or to be the one left behind, the emotional roller coaster ride when dealing with this grief can be nasty. But, at the end of the day, our kids have learned that friendships are not finite, and they do not begin and end with geography.

7: A different way of understanding one’s place in the world: In other words, teaching the lesson “tiny fish, meet endless ocean” is pretty simple to do when kids see just how big our world is. Though they know they are the center of my life, and their father’s life, they are learning that they are not the center of the rest of the world.

8: Developing a very diverse social circle: We have friends spread to the four corners of the earth, American and locals, and we learn so much from their diversity–beyond when Liam proudly announced that he could swear fluently in at least four different languages. From Europe to The Middle East and beyond we love all the perspectives our friends bring to us, and those perspectives only drive home for our kids the vastness of this world.

9: A deep and lasting appreciation of home: The last time we were in DC, which has become home for us in a lot of ways, Liam said to me something along the lines of, yea, all the changes and traveling and moving is tough and jarring but if he didn’t do it then he doesn’t think he would have the same appreciation of his beautiful home country. The kids don’t take the US for granted, they love it and appreciate it in a way that, I think, is different (not better, just different) than someone who has lived there for their entire lives. My kids may not recite the pledge of allegiance, and the only time they sing the national anthem is when we’re at a baseball game in the US, but they are fiercely loyal to their country and bringing them home always feels to them like wrapping them in a warm, fuzzy blanket. And I know that all the insights and experiences they’ve had during their nomadic lives gives them gifts that they will pass on to the US, their perspectives and world views are out of the ordinary and, I think, valuable to our country.

10: Resiliency, because any parent raising nomadic children will tell you teaching those lessons I just wrote about is nearly impossible without it: All this change and flux and transition and starting over requires one thing, resiliency. I have seen my kids move to so many places, take a deep breath, hold their nose, and jump. Or, sometimes, dip a toe in, stand back with folded arms, and sit down to think for a while. No matter how it starts it always ends the same way–two feet planted firmly on the ground. Sometimes there’s adversity, sometimes it’s smooth as glass, but they are always pliable and resilient and I am a proud momma.

This life is full of choices, our choice has been to live as nomads with portable roots, each step we take forward is a conscience decision to continue on this path. And, for now, that’s what we’re doing. So, onward, my little nomads, there is more adventure on the horizon …

The Space Between AKA Crap, I’m Bored

The last few months have been chaotic, stressful, fun, and full of change. I’ve been so busy that it was all I could do to just squeeze everything in, and sometimes I didn’t. Now we’re at post, in our temporary house, living out of our welcome kit (who buys those damn comforters anyway, clearly someone without any nerve function in their skin because those bad boys are like sandpaper!), which means the house is pretty much empty. I feel kind of like a little ball of fur rolling along the tile floors, looking for stuff to do. For the first time in months I have time on my hands. Gobs and gobs of time, in fact. You’d think I’d be happy about this. And I’m not unhappy, I’m just bored. I haven’t reached the level of boredom where I do stupid shit because, as Eric just wrote to me “uh-oh, a bored Heather is like a curious cat!” I’ll force myself to be un-bored before I reach that level but, for now, meh, not so much. Ordinarily I’d set out on foot to explore our new city but that’s a no no in Tegucigalpa–going out would be filed under “stupid shit Heather does when she’s so bored that she’s going to start beating her head against the wall for stimulation”–so that’s out. And we have shiny new maps on our GPS so I can start driving when I work up the courage (I’m the only person I know who can get lost driving around a block so a GPS is a must). My desire to run, even if it has to be on the treadmill, will soon outweigh my cowardice about getting behind the wheel. But, for now I’m here.

This is what I think of as the space between. Between the insanity of an international move, the whirlwind of DC training and home leave, the mad rush of getting settled at post, and truly making this new city our home there exists a no man’s land for me. This is the space where I do a lot of wandering around the house, straightening things that aren’t crooked, talking to our dogs even more then usual, staring off in to space, and writing down all the things I can bake in the one loaf pan I have. I seem to have zero motivation to actually be productive, I’m not sure why and, honestly, I’m not even sure if I care that much. See? No motivation, I tell ya! The kids have started school, Eric has started at the embassy, I keep things rolling along at home and, right now, that doesn’t take much.

This is the part of the roller coaster where you’ve done all the fun twists and turns, felt like you we’re going to hurl a couple of time, maybe screamed a bit, thought “why the hell am I on this thing????” and then BOOM! That hard brake at the end before you pull back onto the platform, moving slowly to the spot where you get off the ride and figure out which one you want to conquer next. For now, I’m just coasting, sitting in my little roller coaster car, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the next bit.

Maybe I’ll read a magazine. Maybe I’ll brush a cat. Oh, look, it’s 11:27, only 6 more hours till I can get dinner started. Maybe I’ll take a nap …

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 …

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