Nunca Solo

The kids and I returned from a trip yesterday. As I type this now in my quiet house, they have gone to dad’s for the week, and the laundry is humming with more piles to be done. Suitcases are unpacked, and the refrigerator is restocked. It’s funny how you return from a week away and things are exactly the same as you left them (of course) and it makes you wonder if those days even happened. Our days, all of them, come and go only once – whether we are home or far away.

Mexico 2019

Travel is something I have loved since I spent a summer in England in college and was bitten by the travel bug, as they say. When I was married, we were always going somewhere or planning some excursion. Most of this was simply because my ex husband traveled excessively for work. I was a stay-at-home-mom for three years, and Jude and I would tag along and entertain ourselves in an unfamiliar city while his father worked during the day. Then when Norah was born and I went back to work full-time, that wasn’t so easy, but we’d still cash in travel points every summer to see a new place. It was an interesting season of my life. (Interesting, that annoying word I tell my students not to use because it really means nothing at all.) To clarify – it was a complex time in my life. We got to go on luxurious vacations once a year, sure. Nice resorts and plush hotel beds and new scenery. But the price I paid was a husband who was never home and [free] accommodations that looked nearly the same, no matter what location we were in.

My travel bug has not really gone away, but my household exists on less than half the income it did at that time, and I do not have a pile of frequent flier miles or hotel points at my disposal. I’ve found creative ways to see new things and make memories with the kids while stretching a dollar. Tiny beach condos and yurt camping and cabins on the river. I assumed that a bigger trip was not in the cards for me for quite some time though, so much so that my passport sat unusable for nearly 4 years in my locked safe at home with my old married name still on it. But in January, I ran across an unbelievable deal for a resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (So good, in fact, that I contacted them after booking it asking if it was indeed true that all three of us can stay and eat there for that price.) I booked the hotel thinking I may have to cancel if flight prices didn’t come down. Then I got an alert from Google that flight prices were cut in half for a few hours back in April, so I jumped in with both feet and booked it. Even as I packed our suitcases the week before we left, I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

We landed in Mexico last Monday around 5pm and had no trouble at all getting out of the airport and to the resort. We arrived at the hotel to check in and went straight for our balcony overlooking the pool bordered by blue ocean as far as we could see. It was a long travel day and so much planning and preparation. Once we were settled, the kids wanted room service nachos, and I was happy to oblige.

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In the past few weeks, I prepped for every possible disaster scenario. I’d read numerous reports of seaweed overtaking the Yucatan and much of Quintana Roo this summer. I worried incessantly about it, but as usual, my worry was unnecessary. There was more seaweed than we usually see in Florida, yes. But the bright colors, fun food, kind people, and that special magic sauce of what it feels like to see a new place more than made up for it. We spent lazy mornings in the pool, and the hotel location lacked the isolation of a lot of Mexican resorts and made it easy to see the town itself. It was the perfect mix of relaxation and a little adventure in the unfamiliar.

I came to see firsthand on this trip that we are in such a great season with their ages and interests. They are old enough to maneuver their own luggage on and off planes and through customs lines without complaint, but they are young enough to find enjoyment in the simplest things, like tacos and ice cream and the rhythms of an unfamiliar language. The stress of traveling with them alone is that it is only me to plan and problem solve. But the reward is so much freedom. And I’m seeing how well we know each other and how close we are in this shape of three. As much as I would love someone else to share this load and help me do the necessary tasks every now and then, I can’t imagine what I would have missed in these few years if we didn’t have this time together just the three of us. Last week was a reminder of that more than ever.

Mexico 2019

We took a day trip to swim in the cenotes, and it was definitely the highlight of the week for me. We snorkeled in a salt water lagoon and then ventured further to Cenote Pakal Nah where I didn’t get a photo that does it justice, but it was the most beautiful clear water I’ve ever seen. You could see all the way to the bottom, and we watched tiny fish give us pedicures.  It’s a gravel road that leads you there, and it feels like an oasis in the jungle. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and a different view of Mexico than I expected.

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After that, we went to one last cenote in a limestone cave where the water was freezing, but we braced for it and jumped in anyway. The kids were shivering and laughing the whole time. Once we got out and dried off, we ate lunch from a buffet in a screened pavilion surrounded by Mayan jungle. Rice and beans and guacamole and fresh pico de gallo and bunuelos draining on a paper towel the way my grandmother would serve her fried apple pies. As we walked out, a stray cat crossed Norah’s path and laid down for her to pet it. I swear it seems that no matter where we are, animals always find her. Of course what followed was, “Mama, can we take him home?”

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We crashed early that night, bone tired from swimming and cuddled in bed in the hotel room watching a movie until our eyelids were heavy. The rest of the trip was mostly just relaxing and exploring at our own pace and enjoying the novelty of things we cannot get at home.
Mexico 2019

 

Mexico 2019

I think sometimes growth happens in ways that sneak up on you. It comes along in increments and then you do something you never would have done before and realize you have come such a long way. This trip was one of those things for me. I have done a million uncomfortable things on my own – from buying a home to making job change decisions to dealing with car repairs or negotiating with home improvement contractors. But I know with certainty that I would not have taken both kids across the ocean alone a short while ago. All of the fear stories that play in your head — what if I get sick while we are there and I am the only one to care for them? What if I get us lost? Is it safe for a woman to travel alone with kids like this? These stories still played in my head, but I just turned the volume down on them so that they didn’t drown out all of the other beauty that was there for us.
Mexico 2019

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I read Jen Pastiloff’s new memoir while we were on this trip, and it was the perfect medicine. I’ve met her before through attending her workshops when she comes through Atlanta, and one journaling exercise she has us complete is “If I had no fear, I would…” I still have my journals from both times I attended the workshop. Pages and pages of what I’d do with no fear. We all have fear though. It’s there and it’s normal. Acknowledging it and allowing a little space between it and myself is the way I have learned to move past it. It’s still here and still present, but it is not all there is of me.

Mexico 2019

Jen also talks in her workshops about what she terms bullshit stories, the things we tell ourselves that just aren’t true but we act as though they are. She mentions this in the book, too. She tells us, “I’ve had (and I have) so many bullshit stories. It’s all part of this being human thing. The way out? Recognizing them and eradicating them so they don’t rearrange your DNA and live in your body as truth.” That distance between my fear and my real self is what allows me to eradicate them.

This trip imploded some of my own bullshit stories and exposed them for what they are. The story that I cannot travel on my own. That I cannot make it happen on a smaller budget, or that it is somehow less enjoyable when it is less expensive. The story that I don’t deserve to see what’s out there. The story that this small piece of the world is all that is for me. The story that I cannot make an experience happen when I truly desire it. The story that we are somehow less complete in this shape of three.

I think the biggest bullshit story that it eradicated for me is the one that says I am all alone in my care for these two kids. That was my biggest fear as I embarked on this trip — that it was all me and only me and what if I can’t handle it?

When we landed in Mexico, I found the longest customs line I have ever seen before. Swarms of people winding through ropes at the airport and it seemed it was hardly moving. It was hot and crowded, and I was bracing the kids for a long wait. We waited maybe 20 minutes with at least three times that much in front of us when an immigration officer walked up to me and asked how many we had and I pointed out there were three of us. He said “follow me” and I was unsure where this was going but obviously didn’t say no. He walked us out of the line and across the room to open a new checkpoint. We were through in two minutes after that. Things like that happened again and again all week. Bracing myself for the pushy sales pitches as we left the airport when instead all I got was one taxi driver asking who my transportation company was and when I told him, he pointed me in their direction to help instead of hassling me to use him instead. A driver who hardly spoke English but offered Norah a life preserver in the cenote and smiled and said, “Taxi?” as he motioned for her to hold on and swam her faster to the edge of the cold cave. So many kind people there to help and to guide.

We are never fully alone, but somehow we forget this. I know so many moments of this trip will stick with me for a long time. Colors and flavors and images and sounds that I hope will live somewhere in the depths of my memories for years and years. But I want to remember that lesson as well — Nunca solo. I am not alone. You do not have to measure your life by what it lacks. The world will rise to meet you when you have the courage to move in the direction of trust and curiosity.

mountain weekend

I spent the weekend in the north Georgia mountains with my closest friends. Fall is just beginning here in Georgia, and it still reaches close to 80 degrees on some days. But it’s close, and you can feel it. A chill in the mornings, and when the sun is dimmed by clouds, it feels like October. We are just on the cusp of something new.

 

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It was almost dark by the time we got to the cabin on Friday. We arrived to turn on the oven and bake the dinner I’d prepped. We lit candles and opened wine and settled into the cozy space that was ours for the weekend. I never miss a beat with these few. It can be days or weeks or months between get-togethers, and it feels like it always ever did. After dinner, we explored the outside of the cabin a bit. Jittery like a little kid with all the darkness and isolation around us. I live in a fairly roomy area of the Atlanta suburbs, but even so, I can forget what it really feels like to be removed from lights and houses and shopping centers and restaurants until I venture somewhere like this.
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We talked a lot on Friday about changes and thresholds in life. I read once that we have rituals for all kinds of experiences – weddings, funerals, birthday parties, etc. You use those rituals to remind yourself that a chapter is done and another is beginning, and sometimes if a ritual doesn’t exist for something you are encountering, you just have to invent one. We decided to create some rituals of our own this weekend as each of us, in her own way, is moving forward to something new and burning away the old. The landscape of fog and barely tinged leaves was a perfect backdrop for that idea. A moment to settle in to the reality of what is left behind and what is to come.

 

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Saturday was drizzly and gray all day, but it didn’t bother us in the least. We ventured to a couple of local wineries and enjoyed back country roads.
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The second winery we stopped at was tiny and quaint, and they had a small fridge of cheeses and a fireplace when you walked in. After a little tasting, the woman who worked there suggested we buy a bottle and head around the back to the small “grotto” they have with live music. We followed her suggestion, and the rain scared away much of a crowd, so it was almost empty. We talked and laughed and just lingered in that way that wine and music and gray skies inspires. It was perfect.

After staying there for a while, we drove a bit more to find funky roadside pottery and fun spaces.

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The very best parts of the weekend were those little nondescript moments though. Huddled in a cabin with rain outside and space to breathe. Space to talk and laugh and share without judgment or expectation.

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A friend sent me a text last January with that Cynthia Occelli quote that reads, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Since then, I’ve thought a lot about the rhythm of seasons and the metaphor of growth in my own life. You go through periods, I think, when all you can do is the next right thing. One after the other. And you do the best you can, but it is painful and you feel buried, so to speak. Your shell cracks and it’s rough there for a while. It feels like complete destruction for certain. But the growth emerges eventually. Seasons change. Life moves forward. You find yourself different and bigger and stronger.

 

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I’m still so uncertain. But I know I’m bigger and stronger, and I know love exists in so many forms. Joy exists in so many places.  And nothing feels better than a new season.

our week away

The kids and I enjoyed Disney World last week with my mom as my university was on midterm break.  It was a trip planned and paid for ages ago before everything changed, and I feel grateful that we got to enjoy it together.

Disney is not a vacation for parents. (I’m not sure how many ways I should say that to make it clear, but really and truly, it is exhausting.) But there is something magical about seeing it all through your kids’ eyes and watching them get lost in all the fantasy.  These two had such a great time.

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It was a good lesson for me to live in the moment.  I didn’t take as many photos as I “should” have – not one single picture of all four of us together, which I kind of regret.  (Remember the days when we were little, and our parents would take a handful of pictures on vacation and that was it? Expectations are so different these days.)  But at the same time, there’s something to be said for just throwing your things in the car and hitting the road to forget everything else for a while.  It’s liberating in our current world of Pinterest and planning and iPhone sharing.

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I booked a few character dinners for them ages ago, but that is all the planning I really did.  Other than that, I just let them hold the reins on this one, and we followed along – which meant riding Buzz Lightyear too many times and walking most of Disney World with my almost-three-year-old strapped on my back in the Ergo, but it was worth it. It was a good reminder to live in the moment and enjoy what is right in front of you without thinking ahead to tomorrow or next week.  They are growing into such incredible little people these days.  It makes my heart beat a little bigger to see them interacting and growing and learning.

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As we arrived home, we were in negotiations with some potential buyers on our home, and it looks like we are officially under contract now.  It’s both exciting and terrifying.  I have no idea where I am going with the kids, but I’m trusting something good will fall in my path.  Send good thoughts our way as the kids and I begin the next chapter in this journey.

beach life

We are home and glad to be here.  Yesterday afternoon, about an hour outside of Atlanta, Jude decided to take his shoes off on the airplane.  Piles of sand fell out, and his sandles were still wet from our morning walk on the beach.  It’s much of the same at home as I’m unpacking bags.  Sand making its way all over our floors here, too.  Grainy little reminders of some really beautiful memories we made last week.

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We did a lot of nothing, in the best Caribbean way. Lounging on the beach while the kids played a little, playing with them in the pool, then coming inside so Norah could nap. Jude seems to be past that when even hours of playing in the water couldn’t convince him to sleep in the afternoons. So we’d set him up with a movie while she slept, and then we traded off parenting duties so one stayed in the room with them while the other got some time and vice versa. It’s a set-up that worked well for us in Costa Rica, and it allows for a little parental relaxation, too.

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Because I want to be clear about one thing: traveling with two little kids is not all roses. They are young and don’t always behave the way we’d prefer, but the way I look at it, that’s what happens at home too, so we might as well hit the road every now and then despite any challenges. They might not remember moments of this trip, but we do. And there were some great ones.

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Like everything else in life, it seems you just need to remember the best and shake off any obstacles you encountered along the way. I do love seeing new places with this bunch.

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Norah was undountedly more difficult to travel with than Jude is. I think that’s a combination of both age and personality. She wasn’t crazy about the sand, so we had to keep her little blanket spread out on the beach. She’s not crazy about sitting in high chairs either, so there was a lot of lap bouncing to make it through dinners. But it’s hard to complain when she’s so tiny. I know one day she will walk next to me and exploring new places will be easier. Until then, I can do it this way though. Her little grin is a sweet reward for those frequent trying moments.

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And then there’s my Jude. I’ve seen four countries and two west coast trips with this one, and he is probably my favorite travel companion. He’s so good at rolling with new plans and experiences.

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It wasn’t as scenic and adventurous as our last beach trip was – partly because of the nature of the destination and partly because with two little ones we just stayed around the resort everyday rather than taking day trips of any kind. That said though, I think it was exactly what we needed at this time. The insanity of the past couple months with home renovations and buying and selling and some other stressors was balanced by such a lazy week. It was perfect.

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Suitcases of dirty laundry and a mountain of tasks are calling my name, and I already wish I could bottle up a few moments of last week.  But I guess that’s why vacations retain their splendor.  We can’t quite hold that feeling for too long and need another reset button soon enough.  For right now though, I am feeling full and grateful and looking forward to what is to come.

Resurfacing

I’m slow on the posting these days.  It’s been a busy week.

Scott and I took a quick trip to New York for our anniversary this weekend.  We left Jude at home with grandparents which was a big deal to me.  I don’t know why it was, but it was.  I’m perfectly aware that there are some families who do baby sleepovers as early as a few months, and I am also perfectly aware that some of you reading this might not spend nights away from your little ones until they are more like kindergarteners or older.  Either way is fine, really.  Different ideas work for different families, and for mine, two little nights right before the two-year-old mark seemed like a good fit.

It’s funny though that you are never really off the clock as a mother.  No matter how far away you are, it creeps back in your head, wondering how he is or what he ate for lunch or if he’s been sleeping enough.  Obsession over details seems like both a genetic tendency for me and also an occupational hazard that comes with this job.

If I’m being honest, it wasn’t the lush baby-free vacation of my dreams.  I just don’t think I’m there yet in terms of really needing an extended break from him for my sanity’s sake, so I didn’t crave numerous days away from him like I crave a quick outing on my own.  It was nice to get away and be a grown-up without crushed crackers and baby wipes in my purse though.  I couldn’t help but think the city’s heat wave (heat indexes of something like 115!) was my fault.  Like God sent a distraction for me so that I really didn’t have time or brain energy to worry too much about Jude.  Friday was especially brutal, so we spent a lot of time at the Met to get out of the heat.  Not a bad plan at all, really.  Even with the droves of other tourists with the same idea, it was still the Met and still lovely.  We also managed to see “War Horse” which was incredible and have a lovely dinner at Jean Georges which totaled something like three weeks of our usual grocery bill, but it might have been worth it.  Saturday morning’s temperatures were a lot better, and we strolled Chinatown enjoying colorful shops and dim sum and hunting for taro bubble tea.

New York City is such fun for a short period of time for me, but it’s not a city that sings to me, so to speak.  I think I’m too slow or something.  I love Paris with its two-hour lunches and lazy riverside strolling, and I think I could live happily in some quaint little English town, but NYC is fun for me only because it is so far from my usual self, so different from what I really am.

Of course when we first got home, I was aching to see my little one, and he’s all, “Oh hey, mom.  Didn’t realize you were gone that long.  Can you pass me that graham cracker please?”  Good thing I gave birth to you rather strenuously, fed you from my own body for sixteen months, wipe your ass numerous times a day, and tuck you in every night and now you hardly notice my absence.

But then we settled in for the night, and he wouldn’t stop doing that half-hugging, half-clobbering thing that toddler boys do and he asked me to lie down next to him as he fell asleep yesterday afternoon and then again today which hasn’t happened in ages.  So maybe he missed me after all.  Either way I am happy to be home to my cluttered house and million unfinished craft projects and messy dogs.  Real life is calling with a lot of tasks this week, and it feels good for a change.  Busy week ahead here.  Catching up with friends three separate times this week and looking forward to it.  My teacher friends head back to the classroom soon, so we are cramming in a few last get-togethers.

Spotify is also a tempting distraction for me these day, by the way.  Have you seen it?  It’s a free music streaming website, and I can get lost there for hours.  It’s a fun way to share music with friends and discover new sounds.  My current favorite playlist is full of songs I don’t entirely understand like this one and this one.  So fun.

Happy Monday!  Good days ahead.

Beginnings and Endings. And Traveling in Between.

I love to travel.  Love it.  Seeing new places, eating new food, cramming clothes in a suitcase with plans in my head.  For various reasons – namely money and real jobs – I am not as extensively traveled as some I know, but pre-Jude, Scott and I would take trips whenever we could, some not far from home, and some a little farther.

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in Bruges, Belgium three years ago

It’s so hard to try and imagine how your life will change after having a child.  I think it’s actually pointless to predict it because parenting is something that, for me anyway, kind of evolves on its own.  I expected to drop the baby off at Grandma’s house often for a night out or a longer trip away.  I expected to want “me” time really frequently.  I expected to feel a little trapped and overwhelmed in this role. But life surprises you sometimes and things don’t always progress the way you expect them to.

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So when we first began to talk about a trip to celebrate my thirtieth birthday, I never even thought about leaving Jude at home. Not that couple time isn’t a good thing, of course. But he’s so young and so a part of us that I jumped in with both feet and dragged a toddler to Costa Rica.

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I know everyone has varying opinions on this, but I love traveling with a baby. We took him to Seattle when he was nine months old, and things went well, so I wasn’t really thinking about any reasons not to take him this time.  That said, as I began to plan the trip and share details with others, some people told me in not-so-confusing terms that they thought I was crazy or even unfair to my child to drag him along.  I did it any way, and I’m so glad I did.

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My thirtieth birthday trip to Costa Rica was such a fun adventure.  But I learned a few subtle lessons, too.

As we landed in Liberia and waited in line at customs, I saw two young couples arriving from the states as well. The women were complete from head to toe with beachwear on their backs, coordinated luggage, and glossy lipstick. Obviously four childless folks vacationing together with grand plans of piña coladas at the shore and deep tans to bring home as souvenirs. And as I looked at them with my toddler in the carrier on my back, I glanced at a shadow of my former self. One without worries of proper water safety and preserving the sacred nap time. One who remembered to wear lipstick and didn’t find my bra hanging out of a stained shirt after a four-hour flight with a busy kid.

And those travel days with fewer worries and more time?  They were lovely.  I’ve cruised the Seine at night with Paris illuminated before me.  I’ve strolled Nantucket’s cobblestone streets with not a single concern in my mind.  I’ve lingered far too long over a bottle of wine with friends in a restaurant that would never work with my child in tow.  I’ve sipped tea leisurely in Grantchester Orchard with a stack of school books in my bag.  I’ve walked the gulf sand with girlfriends and cold beer and silence punctuated with some of my life’s best conversations.  And all of those moments were just as perfect as they sound, lasting stamps in my mind.

But here we are at a new place with some pretty beautiful moments as well.

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Was every second of the trip perfection?  I’d be lying if I said so.  There were no fewer than three tantrums on the plane ride there.  There was a rushed dinner that felt far too long because we traded off toddler-duty, walking rounds to satisfy a tired and cranky boy.  There was the constant need for a pacifier so that he’d stop eating random, potentially dangerous things.  Relaxing poolside is impossible when he’s vulnerable and can’t swim, and admittedly I relished the glorious hour of naptime when I lounged and read alone under the hot sun.  Traveling with a child is not for the faint of heart.  But then again, neither is motherhood.  Just when the newborn haze wears off, you get the hang of things, and then the mobility begins and you wonder how you got here.  You find a way to make it work though.  Now I just look for a playground in walking distance from my relaxing beachside margarita.

Our first day in Costa Rica, we were poolside next to an older couple from Indiana.  They commented on Jude’s cuteness, and we began talking.  They spoke of grandchildren back home they missed, the ten-day tour of Costa Rica they were ending, and the beautiful sights they’d seen.  And as we spoke, I realized something.  Life moves on.  And these stages, however easy or hard they may be, only last for a little while.  Right now I have this wiggly daredevil who wants to run and scream and play, and it’s fun but exhausting.  Soon I will have an active swimmer who won’t stress me out so much in the pool or make a scene in a restaurant, but I’m sure I’ll miss chubby little hands and feet.  And later still, I hope to travel with a teenager who can hold his own in a conversation with me and understand the historical significance of some of the world’s greatest places.  And much, much later, we’ll have those childless trips again, wandering city streets and seeing sights without worrying about taking care of someone else.

So I guess if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this few weeks of my thirtieth year it’s that this might be the end of certain parts of my life, but it’s only the beginning of a lot more.  That and I love belonging to my little family, whether we are near or far.

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Costa Rica: The Photo Recap


We’re home.  As are the mountains of laundry and loads of unanswered emails and jet-lagged toddler.  Being home always feels good, but I do hate this few days of catch up after a trip.

So of course instead of working on all of those tasks, I am spending time uploading photos from my camera.  And y’all, this place is BEAUTIFUL. If Costa Rica is not on your bucket list, I suggest you revise.

We only traveled with the Canon S90 rather than our Nikon DSLR which I know is a crime when there was so much to capture on film.  The thought of a daunting camera in addition to all the gear that comes with a third little traveler seemed frightening and near impossible though.  Even with the small camera, we managed to capture a lot of it.

I have a lot to say, and I really want to string together the details of the trip before they get lost in my mind.  I hope to sit down sometime this week and do that.  For now, I’ll say that as far as celebrations of 30 years of life go, it was pretty close to perfect.  I’m so grateful to experience this world with my little family. More later, friends.

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** And on a completely unrelated note, you’ll see an adorable new header designed by Jenna of QA Designs.  LOVE it, Jenna… a huge thank you. ***