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It started with Nate, Canaan, and I driving to the L to go downtown to get visas

Nate: The hood of our car looks really red.

Kelley:  Yeah, it does.  Maybe the dust on the hood is reflecting the taillights in front of us.

Nate:  I don’t think so.

Ten minutes later …

Nate:  It looks like spray paint or something

Kelley: (Scooches up in her seat to get a better view.)  Oh my gosh it is spray paint and there are letters.  Someone wrote on our  car!

Yes, our car was tagged.  It now has three choice letters on the hood and the headlights have been covered in red.  Super.

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We get to the visa office and I expect to keep our 9am appointment.  In fact, I’m curious to meet the man I made this appointment with because he is the man with whom I had this conversation (in Spanish) in reference to our appointment.

Him: And your last name?

Me: T****

Him: T as in …

Me: T as in …. oh wow I can’t think of any Spanish words with T, hmmm.

Him: T as in, as in tit?  Oh I’m so, so sorry that just popped out.  I apologize.

Me:  Yes, T.

We had a good laugh and moved on to set the appointment.  Of course, when we got there people mostly told us to “wait over there” while they talked to people in an unidentifiable order.  While I waited (4 hours total) an Ecuadorian woman asked me what type of milk I feed our 6 month old.  It turns out she was asking because it’s her opinion that many babies are much too fat, that they are unhealthy and she doesn’t like the way they look.  Apparently, according to her, my baby looks nicely healthy and slim and so she wants to know what type of milk makes a baby this way.

Four hours later, one stressful 15-minute shoulder nap for the baby and we almost home.  But, to our downfall, we risked the urine-ridden elevator at the green line pulaski stop so that Nate wouldn’t have to carry the baby in the stroller down the stairs.  On the tiny, stench-filled elevator was my family and an African American man wearing headphones.  Canaan proceeded to openly stare at this man, as he does with all strangers.  Maybe if he had a friendly stare things would have gone differently, but that stare is dead-on, unblinking, without a hint of a smile until he knows you.  The man pulled half an earphone off and proceeded to address Canaan.

Man (at a volume to be heard over his music):  Oh baby, you’ve got a lot to learn in life, so many new things to learn.

Nate & I: Hehe (awkward half laughs, unsure of ourselves)

Man:  You’re staring at me because I’m a black man.  I look different and that’s why you stare.  You’re are going to learn that they are black people in this world.

Nate & I:  He tends to stare at most new people …

Man:  And it’s okay that you don’t know better than to stare.  You are surrounded by white and all you see is white but you’ll learn.  I was young and I never saw a white person til I was older but I learned.

Elevator doors open, we exit and Nate & I do another half shrug, awkward laugh …

That was my day, which involved many hours of waiting, no visas to make it worth our time, one tired baby, one tagged, embarrassing-to-be-seen-in-car, and a variety of cultural experiences.  Oh and Canaan’s first L ride, may some of them be less eventful in the future.

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10 years!  It’s been 10 years since Nate & I left Ecuador, 10 years since we graduated from high school.  That meant that this summer was reunion time.  Our class reunion was in Costa Mesa, California where the reunion planner lives.  People flew from all over the US, including Maine, Texas, Colorado, etc.  We had people come down from Canada and up from Ecuador for the event.  Just over half of our class was able to make it.  And wish us we brought new spouses and a pile of kids.

The reunion was pretty low-key planning wise.  It was three days of time to hang out.  We all stayed in the same hotel and had a conference room for our group that we could come and go from whenever.  World Cup games were watched together in that room.  Our first night we had a picnic in the park.  The next day people did what they wanted.  Some people went to Disney Land, some to Cristal Cathedral, the pool, or the beach.  Nate, Canaan, and I spent time with our friends Jeff, Mackenzie, and Jayden Rollins at Downtown Disney where we ate some spicy Cajun food and looked at the shops.  Canaan needs a few more years on him til that place becomes fun.  At night we had a campfire on the beach with hotdogs and s’mores.  The plan was to have a sing-along once it got dark but since it doesn’t get dark til after 9pm all of the kids were melting down long before that and we had to move the party back to the hotel!

The next day was another chill day and I spent time with my friends Rachel, Darryl, and Ellie as well as Sara, Matt & Bella.  At night we had our main reunion event.  We had catered South American food.  They played the video from our Senior Trip and a slideshow of many, funny old pictures.  There was one child who exclaimed at seeing his mom with a boy other than “daddy.”  Greg Collord was able to attend this night and he read our Senior Story that included everyone’s first and last names.  The group moved up to the conference room afterward and stayed up way past our post-baby bedtime talking and watching old videos of vocal concerts.

On Sunday we had a little mini-service and then watched the World Cup final together.  After that people started departing.  Nate and I had made plans to stay an extra day so we could see some friends from the Redlands/Yucaipa area so we did that Sunday afternoon.  Then we headed back to the hotel for dinner and afterward I was able to spend on last out with Sara, Sara, Erin, Rachel, and Jess.  I’m really glad I had that extra night and had fun exploring our thoughts on parenting, how our own experiences have impacted us, and what we might do different with our kids.

It was fun to see everyone’s spouses, kiddos and different parenting styles.  There were many kiddie meltdowns and lots of kids being passed from one person to the next.  Bonus for Nate & I was that the conference room was right across from our hotel room so we could let Canaan nap with the monitor on and be relatively free.  Other bonus was Jayne Lee, who loved holding Canaan and took him off of our hands often.  I enjoyed connecting with some people that I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with in Ecuador too.  I also enjoyed watching how people’s lives have turned out.  I’m amazed at some of my friends and where they were at along the way and where they are now.

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Idaho in Pictures

Swinging in the hammock with Grandpa Weenie, where Canaan liked to spit up all over him

Sleeping at the God & Country concert

Meeting Great Grandma Ruthie

Visiting the Farmer’s Market in downtown Boise.  Delicious fresh made mini-donuts!  Evidence of Canaan’s coming cousin off to the right.

Bad eating habits incurred by Nona

Hanging out up high

Playing with Aunti Kim and Uncle P (I promise our child is not always naked.  Just semi-frequently when we are lazy or he is hot.)

Checking out the ducks along the Green Belt

Nona finally encouraging some good eating habits (mostly posted b/c I love this picture!)

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Summer in Boise

We’re in Boise and I think I’m the closest to relaxed that I’ve been in 3 months.  The weather is the perfection of a sun and breeze.  The outside noises are quiet and lazy … and I’ve got about six sets of hands willing to hold a baby.

Canaan did surprisingly well on his first plane trip.  He fussed for only about 10 minutes of the whole 2-legged trip.  He, unsurprisingly, became a wreck later that day after being woken up at 4am and taking only short catnaps.  His Nona and Grandpa Weenie were waiting to meet him on the other side of security.

After getting our bags we headed out to brunch at a cute little french cafe.  I loved my banana custard brioche french toast with caramel sauce.  Everybody else found it cloyingly sweet.  But they liked their own orders just fine.

Since then we have been relaxing.  This involves lots of Food Network TV, walking the neighborhood, and eating out on the back deck!  Dinner outside is one of those sweet summer perks that are my equivalent to someone else’s warm bath and candles.  Our first back deck dinner involved Grandma Ruthie … and no Canaan who crashed for the night at 5:30pm because he was so tired from the trip.

It’s the simple things like strawberry lemonade on a tray outside that make life fun.  It’s the things that appeared on this tray post-dinner that make for a perfect finish to a summer day.  But you’ll have to wait til the next post to check out what this tray held for dessert!

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Our last full day in Panama City we had chose to go snorkeling again.  We ended up getting the hook up from the security guard at our hotel and were able to arrange a half day, private snorkeling tour around Cristobal Island.  At the first site, we were all a little dubious about entering the water.  We had to dock at a scummy, seaweed-strewn location and then swim about 10 yards to get to the coral.  After we squealed and squirmed at the squishy bottom, we set off as a four-pack.  It felt like an intrepid adventure, swimming stealthily through the murky water, giving each other hand signals.  We snorkeled around for a bit, but weren’t nearly as impressed with what we saw.  The water was very shallow and it was hard to keep from hitting the coral, so we swam back to the boat to head back to the second location.

(So nice to have the boat to ourselves)

The second location was smack in the middle of the big, wide ocean.   It was INCREDIBLE!  I didn’t expect much after the other site, but the minute I pressed my face under the water I was in total awe.  There was so much extravagant coral, the likes of which I’ve never seen.  The water was quite deep and something about the depth and coral gave the whole area a magical, aquarium quality.  There was nowhere that you could swim where there wasn’t something fantastical  to look at.  The coral was beyond anything I’ve ever seen.  We saw some that looked like green peas, some that looked like pearls and Christmas tree ornaments, and on and on.  The lack of limits made it seem like we had entered another land.  I marveled over and over that this whole other world exists right under us that we know nothing about.  I thought about God creating this whole world and how much pleasure there must have been in making creatures so unlike any others.  I was also left of a sense of humility.  As humans, we tend to be utterly self-focused, not taking in much of the rest of creation.  And though we are the pinnacle of God’s creation, there is so much more out there that he cares about.  One thing I love about snorkeling is how it can simultaneously be an intimate, individual experience and a group experience.  Words are left on the surface and you foray around as things catch your eye.  Yet your excitement leads you to motion others over to experience what you are experiencing.

I could have been out there forever, but eventually we had to leave the magical sea world.  It was my favorite experience of the islands. We spent the afternoon at a coffee shop talking about our snorkeling experience, drinking iced coffees, playing cards and reading.

(Walking around our last night before dinner)

(Drumline we ran into)

The next day was a lazy day.  We headed to a beach for just one hour in the morning, before showering and packing up our rooms. Then Kim & I got pedicures Panamanian-style, while the guys entertained themselves with Sudoku.  Pretty pampered to have the pedicure lady show up at our hotel at the hour we requested!  We spent the afternoon playing cards and trying to stay cool, as it was the hottest day we had experienced.  Then we boarded the plane and headed back to Panama City for our last night in Panama.  We spent our final evening at a Spanish restaurant in downtown Panama.  The paella that Nate and I shared ended up being my favorite food that I ate during the whole trip.  It was a perfect pick for a final night.

(Breakfast at the beach our final morning)

(Landing in Panama City again)

(Paella!)

The next day was Panama City-Miami-Chicago … and back to real life.

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On our second full day in BdT we decided to take a bus to Bocas del Drago for a full day of sun and sand.  Once there, we walked for 15 minutes along the ocean until we got to Starfish Beach.  We weren’t sure if we were there yet until we looked in the water and realized that starfish really did dot the sand everywhere.  It was incredible to see so many of a creature totally foreign to Illinois in one place.  We played with them for a little while, but mostly left them alone.  The beach was beautiful, with totally calm waters.  We spent most of the day sitting in the water, talking, laughing and trying to spot the schools of fish that streamed around and jumped occasionally.  Between laying out reading and chilling in the water, it was my kind of day thru and thru!

We arrived home satisfied and exhausted from the sun.  We cleaned up and headed out for another outdoor dinner (such a luxury to eat in the open air!).  We ordered pizzas and cracked up when it started pouring rain in this totally outdoor restaurant.  We were under a canopy, but it sure was comical to watch the waitresses try to juggle an umbrella along with their food tray.  The only bad part of the day came when Kim and FP realized they had overdone the sun a bit.  We made it an early night so they could get some extra sleep.

The next day we decided to do the tourist thing and take a full day tour of activities.  With about eight other people, we first headed off to Dolphin Bay.  There we dolphin-watched, though it felt overly manufactured, with five boats of tourists all in the water waiting for a sighting.  Still, watching dolphin’s jump is always amazing.  Next we went snorkeling at a location called Coral Key.  It was a great location filled with all sorts of fish, big and small, in packs and individual, and every color imaginable.  The coral was quite colorful and diverse as well.  When we finally surfaced, we were all motivated to do some more research on what types of fish we had seen.  There were definitely angel fish, sea cucumbers, and jellyfish … but other than that I just know it was beautiful.  There is something so serene about floating through the water, hearing almost nothing except the sound of your breath flowing in and out, while watching this underwater life. 

(Lunch at the dock)

Next up was lunch and then over to Red Frog Beach, a beach known for its poisonous red frogs and killer surfing waves.  Kim & I took the chance to relax on the beach, while Nate and FP had a blast getting tumbled, thrashed, and throttled body-surfing those killer waves.  They both really enjoyed that part of the trip, despite the sore muscles and necks later on.  And then our last stop was another snorkeling site, Hospital Point.  This was a little more intimidating as the water was choppy and deep, but it was still fun to try out.

(At Red Frog Beach)

(Dinner that night)

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The following morning it was time to leave our nice rainforest chalet for the salty sea air.  We packed up, and after a quick stop for coffee souvenirs, took a taxi to the main bus terminal in David.  Our bus ride between David and Almirante was just under four hours.  I was surprised at what a pleasant ride it was.  The bus was small, only holding about 30 passengers total and it was much cleaner than I imagined.  Of course it still included the requisite bachata music blaring at full volume for the bus to hear.  Thank God for ipods, though they made us stand out like sore, spoiled thumbs.  As we wound around curves going up the mountain to ultimately go down, I focused on not getting motion sick and the cautions my dad used to say about Ecuadorian buses.  Fortunately, the roads were a little better in Panama.

(Waiting for the water taxi to get to BdT)

From bus to taxi to water taxi and our first feelings of full-on mugginess that comes with the Caribbean.  Bocas del Toro is very similar to Venice in that you need a boat to get most anywhere, and most people own a boat.  It’s not at all like Venice in that it is much more antiquated and somewhat dumpy to the visitor’s eye.  We had drama on the boat dock, having been dropped off by the water taxi only to discover that the gate to our dock was locked and we were stuck on the water with no way to access land.  Nate did the honors of “escorting us” over the locked gate, with many giggles. We had drama late in the afternoon when we discovered that the keys we were given unlocked one lock and we had locked the other and then again at 10am when the water was suddenly cut off.  We learned the next day this is quite common.

(First sight of Isla Carenero)

(Climbing to get to our condo)

We spent our first full day laying low on Isla Carenero, where our condo rental was.  We walked the coast of the entire island, getting a feel for it.  It was a bit of a sad walk.  Half of the island is filled with little villas, rentals, and hotels.  But the other half of the island appears to be living in extreme poverty.  There was open sewage lines, shabbily constructed houses on stilts with no glass in the windows and outhouses, and trash strewn everywhere.  One thing we noticed along the trip in general is that a lot of the tourism money appears to go to foreigners, as they offer tours, hotels, adventures, and then pay locals to do these things for next to nothing. 

(First dinner on the island)

After our island tour we went back over to the main island, Bocas del Toro, to walk the main drag and also to look into other hotel options.  (We still didn’t have running water at this time and so we decided our little island getaway wasn’t quite as romantic as anticipated.)  The place we ended up staying was where we had dinner, including lobster and sea bass, our first night.  This night we ate at a Thai restaurant that boasted the best sea views on the strip.  I was very happy with my Pineapple Chicken and the boys continued to drink as many different types of juice as they could get their hands on.  FP opted for adventuresome things like coconut water, passion fruit, and watermelon juice.  Nate attempted to find the best pineapple juice on the island.

(Dinner at the Thai place after two days with no water … and no showers!)

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