Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012

It's hard to believe that another year will come to a close in just a few short hours. It is always a joy to review what the year has brought our way and this year has been no different. It has been a year of adventure and of big life changes. If you haven't had the chance to follow the blog much this past year, here is a quick recap for you:

We started 2012 in the heart of wilderness, visiting Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica. We took advantage of Costa Rica's "summer vacation" and spent three days adventuring with our friend Kevin. We saw more wild animals than we could have dreamed of (some in very close proximity, such as the peccaries that started grunting when they felt that we were too close) and experienced true beauty.

The remainder of January went as we came to expect during our time in Costa Rica. Days were filled with camp and kids, just the way we liked it. We were also blessed with a visit from our country director who brought along not one, but two amazing Almond Joy cakes for us to share with our campers and our host family. Our friend Billy was also able to make it out for a piece which was wonderful since we bid on the cake after his apartment sadly burned in late 2011.

February was another month of adventure. We started the month by wrapping up summer camps and preparing for the new school year. Then the real adventures began. February took us to Nicaragua for Chris' first 100K race and brought us a delightful visit from Chris' sister Sarah and her friend Molly. We relished the month and couldn't believe how much we crammed into a mere 28 days.

Our trip to Nicaragua was absolutely amazing and we are saddened that we will not be able to go back and join the Fuego y Agua crew for their 2013 event. Not only was the race a phenomenal event, but the island culture and the people of Nicaragua were incredible. We met some amazing people from both Nicaragua and the United States. We formed bonds with people that also share a love for the island and the event and are fortunate that technology allows us to stay in contact with them still.

Our visit from Sarah was another highlight of our month and our two years of service. It was wonderful to be able to share our Peace Corps life with her and to take her to some of our favorite places in the country. We went to Cahuita, our favorite Caribbean town, on a chocolate tour and hiking through the rainforest. We only wish that the visit had lasted longer.

February also marked the beginning of the end for us in Costa Rica. We had our Close of Service conference and started to make plans for our return to the United States.

To say March was an experience doesn't do all that happened justice. We had our final town festival, moved across town, completed the CRUSA grant, and had visits from our friends Matt and Lisa.

It was wonderful to wrap up the CRUSA grant and see improvements made to the colegio. It also meant one less headache for Chris as he no longer needed to worry about spending the money that our community had been presented as a result of his grant writing work.

April was pretty crazy for us. We had a mission group come into town without a translator so we filled our free time helping the two groups communicate. We also took advantage of the situation to meet some incredible people from our community that we hadn't yet gotten to know. It's amazing how in such a small place there were still people that we didn't know at the end of our service. It was wonderful to build those relationships.

In addition we spent some time with great friends over Semana Santa and really took advantage of the little bit of time that we had left in country. When Semana Santa came to a close we took a trip to one of Costa Rica's indigenous communities, Cerere, to celebrate Día del Libro. We met more amazing people and were blessed with several days with other volunteers that we had come to know during our service and celebrate everyone's successes.

May was our final month in Costa Rica. The month that we thought would never arrive. It was a hard one, full of goodbyes and project wrap ups. We held on to our story hour with kindergarten and preschool for as long as possible, went on spur of the moment trips with friends, packed our bags and embraced our family at the end of it all. It was a life changing month for us in many ways. We ended our Costa Rican experience and stepped into our New Mexican life.

June was a time of settling. We moved into our apartment on the fifth after spending a week at our friend Emily's place here in Gallup. We explored our new community and then flew across the country to North Carolina so that we could pack up our belongings and move our life our west. 

July was another crazy month. We welcomed our newest niece to the world, celebrated the marriage of our sister Sarah and explored the Omaha Zoo. We also explored some National Parks and Monuments, Chris ran a "real mountain race" and we pretty much made sure that we didn't have any time before the school year started. It was wonderful!

As you can see, once we returned to the US life didn't slow down. August was no different. Things just kept getting piled on top of one another as we began our new teaching careers. We also started our grad school experience. Life, in a way, came to a screaming halt while the world started spinning faster.

We were blessed with a three day weekend during September which meant that we spent some time with friends! We went rock climbing and hiking which were just about absent during August. We did some trail running and Chris even ran a race. It was nice to have a breather thrown into our new lifestyle.

Fall, what a beautiful thing! Even here in the desert colors change a little bit and the nights get cooler. The days may have been hot as can be, but we enjoyed the changing of seasons for the first time in several years. I (Tarah) even got to experience fall at its finest as my best friend got married in North Carolina during peak leaf season. It was wonderful to have a small break from school and go back east for the wedding and some quick family time.

Here in Gallup we get a whole week off to celebrate Thanksgiving. It was a much needed break from the fast paced lifestyle that we have been leading here. No teaching, no grad school. It was time to breathe. We took some us time and rented a cabin in the woods, ate some wonderful food and did some hiking. Then it was back home for more lesson planning and work on final grad school projects. 


Am I cheating by summing up December without an official December blog? Too bad if it is, because here it comes. We started the month at the Red Rock Balloon Festival. We saw beautiful hot air balloons rise over the desert and Chris ran up to the top of Pyramid Rock a couple of times to get the full experience. Then the month of craziness fell upon us. We wrapped up our first semester of grad school, our first semester of teaching and survived the excitement that comes when you put a group of children together in a small space the weeks leading up to Christmas. We took a trip up to Nebraska to celebrate Christmas with family (whoever said that the first Christmas after Peace Corps was the best was pretty much right). We traveled further east and saw friends and more family. 


All in all it was a pretty spectacular year. I read a quote today by Brad Paisley, "Tomorrow is the first blank page in a 365 page book. Write a good one," that I think sums up our 2012. I think that we wrote a pretty good book this past year. I hope that the coming year is as fruitful and exciting.

Happy New Year everyone - take a moment to reflect on this past year and set a goal to have an even better coming year!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Red Rock Balloon Festival

Every year, Red Rock State Park, just outside of Gallup, hosts an annual hot air balloon festival. Nearly one hundred balloonists come to the area to show off their beautiful balloons and the park is filled with even more colors than those abundant in the desert. We were fortunate enough to spend Saturday morning at the park and experience this sight to be seen.

Pyramid Rock
The moon stayed out all morning!
Chris took an alternative route to enjoying the experience. He decided to run. We got to the park shortly after 7AM and he took off, running up Pyramid Rock. He passed me on his way down, in search of information about the Pyramid Rock Run - another event that is a part of the balloon festival. He ran around and eventually found the start of the race. It was a noncompetitive run through the park, ending with the ascent and descent of Pyramid Rock. While he was out running around and finding his way to the top of the peak once again, I settled in at the top of Pyramid Rock to enjoy the sights.

Chris on his first descent from Pyramid Rock
Hoodoos in the sunrise
The balloons were obstructed by the ridge that surrounds the flight field and so gradually the tops of balloons appeared as they were filled. At first just one or two balloons crested the ridge, and then they came by the tens and twenties. For nearly an hour I reveled in the ascension. The balloons were varied in color, shape, and size. Humpty Dumpty took off in the sky, followed by a large recycling bag, a dead cat, a Kachina doll, Tweety Bird, and Ronald McDonald. Those were the ones that I could pick out from a distance. Other balloons had the outline of the state of New Mexico on them, I saw the famous ReMax balloon (perhaps only famous if your parents work with realtors all of the time), and others with incredible design features. It was a morning well spent.

The first balloons of the morning
They keep on coming...
and keep on coming!
While watching the balloons take off, a group of friends arrived at the top of the peak to also enjoy the sights. We left together (after Chris had made it to the top once more) and then went out to enjoy a fabulous brunch in town. It was a wonderful start to the weekend. You should come check it out sometime - it's well worth it!

A close up of the beautiful balloons
Chris, arriving at Pyramid for the second time

November 2012

With fall quickly coming to an end, we experienced our first snowfall in over two years this November. It was beautiful and we only wish that the fluffy white stuff would have stayed around a little longer. Chris took advantage of the empty streets and went for a long run, I stayed home and baked. It was wonderful. That night Gallup hosted its monthly Arts Crawl and so we braved the cold to check out the work of some local artists. There weren't many people out, which was a shame, because as always there were some incredible pieces out on display.

The rest of the month progressed quickly, as all of them seem to do these days. The only difference was that with the celebration of Thanksgiving, we had a week off from school (both as teachers and as students). It was a chance to get caught up on a lot of work and we were able to squeeze in a little relaxing as well!

The Friday evening before Thanksgiving we treated ourselves to a weekend (overnight) away. About an hour southeast of us lays the town of Ramah, home to El Morro National Monument and more importantly, El Morro Cafe and Cabins. We took advantage of their $100 dinner and cabin special and enjoyed an incredible meal of sesame seed encrusted tuna, mango chutney, stuffed winter squash, and homemade rice pilaf as well as a night in one of the cozy cabins. It was some of the most delicious food that we have eaten in a while. The owner is a wonderful man that shared with us the private trails that climb the mesa behind the cabins and so we got up early the next morning and enjoyed a nice hike before breakfast. 

The trail was still snowy in places and we passed by a 1500 year old Alligator Juniper tree. The trail ended at an old fire tower that was once run by the National Forest Service. We climbed to the top and enjoyed a mountain view in the distance. On our way back for breakfast we explored rocky outcroppings that gave an unobstructed view of New Mexico's natural beauty. With cold feet and rumbling stomachs we returned to the cafe for more wonderful food before heading to El Malpais National Monument, about 15 miles further east.

1500 year old Alligator Juniper

A close up of the Alligator Juniper's bark

"Visitors are requested not to climb" - Oops!

The rock outcropping that we explored the top of
The monument is a vast spread of land that protects the natural beauty that was left after several volcanic explosions thousands of years ago. There are different types of lava flow and numerous caves. While the caves are currently closed due to White Nose Syndrome, we were able to enjoy the trails and check out one of the volcanic cinder cones. Our hike took us to El Calderon, which is believed to have formed 115,000 years ago. Today the cone contains a small forest, but you can imagine what it may have looked like in its active days. We left the cone, sliding down red cinders until we returned to our trail back to the car. It was a wonderful experience and we cannot wait until we have time to go back and explore the area further.
Our red cinder path
The rest of our break, as I mentioned, was mostly filled with work. We took a break on Thanksgiving and ran a turkey trot to help raise funds for the local shelter, Care 66. The race followed a short loop through downtown (three times) and returned to the shelter where we were served fruit and hot chocolate. We waited for our limbs to thaw and then Chris received his first place ribbon. We came home and spent the day relaxing and eating, not turkey but stuffed portabello sandwiches. They were pretty amazing - who says you need to eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

And now we find ourselves in the month of December and only three weeks remaining until Christmas. 2012 is winding down quickly and we are still unsure as to where the year has gone. Just over six months ago we were sweating away in Costa Rica and now we are preparing for the winter chill that will engulf Gallup through March or April.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hello Fall! Nice to see you again! (October)

Life hasn't slowed down since the last time I sat down to write, in fact it may have gotten busier. The first quarter of the year was wrapped up, we held our first parent teacher conferences, have been out observing other teachers, have been busily reading for grad school, and perhaps squeezing a little bit of fun in here and there.

October flew by, and for me was marked with a much needed trip back to North Carolina to see my best friend Megan get married. Sadly, it didn't seem financially responsible for us both to make the trip, so while I was busy being pampered at the Grove Park Inn Spa, eating chocolaty treats, and playing with some of our adorable nieces, Chris was hard at work here in New Mexico.

My trip was quick and nowhere near restful, yet it was rejuvenating at the same time. OK, you got me, spending a day at the spa was certainly restful, but I was on the go, go, go, trying to get as much as possible crammed into the three days that I was back east.

Thursday: Spa Day, Rehearsal Dinner, and a Chocolaty Bachelorette Bash
Pedicured toes, Ready for walking down the aisle

Enjoying as much chocolate as is humanly possible (in some cases, too much)

Friday: Wedding Day!
Sarah, Melissa and Susie helping Megan get ready

Beautiful fall bouquets

The First Dance

Saturday: A run at DuPont State Park and an afternoon with the girls
Hula Hoop Fun

Goofy Gabby

Mischievous Maddie

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Yes, I know, it's the middle of October. But that doesn't mean that nothing happened during the month of September! Life is crazy here between teaching, being grad students, and trying to have lives. Sure, you may think that that is no excuse (and generally, I agree), but sometimes I just want to go to bed at 8:00 and the blog gets put off for another day.

Some exciting things that happened in September:

* I (Tarah) finished reading a book for pleasure, if you know me then this should not be exciting, but considering that I started the book in June it was a very big deal.
* We went running and hiking two weekends in a row! Again, this should not be a big deal if you know us, but this new lifestyle keeps us pretty busy.
* We had a day off of school! Thank you holidays (this also contributed to us being able to go hiking two weekends in a row)!
* Chris ran a half marathon and got first in his age group (though was awarded third since they did not separate out the overall winners in their awards ceremonies)!

Yes, you may consider our lives lame now. 

Here are a couple of photos from those hikes and Chris' race:

Church Rock

The trail leading to Pyramid Rock

Horny Toad

Chris running on Pyramid Rock Trail

Some hoodoos on the way up to Pyramid Rock

The view from Pyramid Rock

Beautiful sunset

Desert flora and Church Rock

Chris running to the finish line of the Squash Blossom Half Marathon

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Change of Pace [August]

Our new life in New Mexico has certainly presented us with a change of pace. After two years and some months of working hard to find work, we now have an abundance of it. 

At the beginning of August we squeezed an afternoon of climbing in with friends and then the school year began. Since that time we have been going non-stop - between teaching, planning, attending grad school and studying it is sometimes difficult to find time to breathe (and write blogs). However, we want to ensure you that we are alive and well (in the grand scheme of things)!

Chris, King of the Mountain
We began our teaching careers with a two-day orientation. The first day was a field trip to nearby Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Nation, and then down to Zuni, New Mexico, a local pueblo of (you guessed it) the Zuni people. It was wonderful to explore the museums of these towns and to learn a little more about the people that we now live amongst. We learned about the history of the people (very briefly), saw some beautiful and interesting artifacts, and met some amazing people. The second day of our orientation wasn't nearly as exciting - we sat in informational sessions, had our school email set up, got fingerprinted, and had pictures taken for our ID cards. (But hey, as a result we now get paychecks and have health insurance!)

Window Rock, AZ (Can you guess how it got its name?)
The two-day district orientation was followed by two days at our schools. It was a rush to try and get our classrooms in order during breaks from training sessions at the school. I had the additional benefit of having a meet and greet with some of my students in the midst of trying to get myself organized. We both ended up back at school over the weekend and did the best we could to be ready for our students first thing Monday morning.

For those that do not know, Chris is teaching 5th grade in a community just outside of Gallup and I am teaching kindergarten in town. It's amazing how similar students from these different age groups can be, but how different our expectations are as a result of their ages. As a result, life is challenging at times, as was expected, but we keep pushing through.

We are taking two graduate classes this semester and so when we aren't busy trying to figure out how to teach, we are busy remembering how to be students. Thankfully our classes are there to help us become better teachers and our classmates and professor are pretty awesome. It is great to have our thinking challenged and to be made to evaluate the decisions that we have made to become teachers.

Don't worry though, it's not all work. We try to carve out a little bit of time to play as well. We attempt to get together with friends on Friday evenings to decompress at the end of the week. Most of our friends here are also teachers, so we are able to support and problem solve with one another - and eat good food, play games, and spend time outdoors.

So long for now, there's more work to do. Don't worry though, we'll be back. Hopefully sooner rather than later!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

July [a whirlwind of travel, fun and adventure]

August is already here. It's hard to believe that school will be starting soon and that our summer adventures will be coming to a close very, very soon (read two days ago). We took full advantage of July, visiting three National Park sites and six different states. We visited with friends in Nebraska and Wyoming. Went to a rodeo (thanks again Julie and Rob!). Did a little shopping and enjoyed some cool (very cold at times) mountain air.

Here's a peek into our July:

El Morro National Monument, 
Ramah, NM

El Morro is located about an hour south of our new home. We had talked about making a trip out there and then it spontaneously happened one morning after a run. We had almost a full tank of gas, no other plans for the day and a dirt road that seamed to be heading in the right direction ahead of us. We drove past the "WARNING: PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. ROAD NOT MAINTAINED BEYOND THIS POINT" sign and made it to Ramah without incident. Granted, we'll take the paved road in the future, but sometimes the best adventures are unplanned.

This historic landmark was a place of relief for travelers making their way west. From the early Americans to Spanish conquistadors El Morro was the place to stop for a break from the desert sun and a drink of cool water. Passersby marked their presence by carving their names and stories into the smooth stone walls. We happened to talk to a park ranger who actually had ancestors who had carved their names into the rock. We crossed paths on the trail and he happily pointed the names out to us! Just another reason to love our National Park Rangers!

Petrified Forest National Park, 
Apache, AZ

Petrified Forest is another pretty awesome location located an hour away from our lovely new home in Gallup. This time we had to travel west into our lovely neighboring state of Arizona. This adventure was planned with an annual National Parks pass in hand and a longing to be reunited with our tent after too many years without it.

The petrified forest is not a forest (just wanted to point that out - a ranger told us of a disappointed visitor that demanded his money back after a drive through the park because he did not see a forest anywhere nearby). In some ways it is much cooler than a forest. Billions of years ago the earth looked much different. What is now desert in the southwest was once a tropical forest. Then things changed. The earth's plates shifted, mountains formed, and those tropical forests were quickly covered up. After an unknown period of time in the right conditions (pressure, minerals... think about the formation of diamonds) the lovely trees of said forests became stone (or petrified). The National Park protects the remaining bits of petrified wood to the best of its ability. Unfortunately visitors still carry about one ton of this precious material out of the park each year. Instead of leaving it behind for future generations to enjoy they want free souvenirs or to make a profit by tumbling the stone and selling the beautiful end product. 

One of added benefits to visiting Petrified Forest (aside from seeing science at work, taking in the painted desert, and listening to fun ranger talks) was that we were able to camp for free in the back country! The requirements are simple - register and then hike at least a mile away from your designated parking location to a place where you cannot be viewed from the road. No problem! We had a lovely afternoon exploring the parts of the park that most visitors do not see and had a peaceful sunset tucked in a little canyon.

Rocky Mountain National Park, 
Estes Park, CO

Rocky Mountain National Park is a national treasure indeed. It is a place that we have visited twice, yet have not yet had ample time to explore. There are an abundance of hiking trails that are calling our names, yet we have hiked few. In a lot of places that would drive us crazy. However, even from a car this National Park can steal your heart. The landscape is incredible. The animals are amazing. And, while we didn't talk to any of them this time around the park rangers are full of interesting information that makes you excited about learning new things.

This trip we were able to drive along Old Fall River Road with Chris' parents. Along the way we spotted several marmots out sunning themselves (and seemingly posing for photos), some young fawns, gorgeous wild flowers, and determined bicyclists. Once at the top we checked out the views and then headed back into Estes Park for the most important event of the day...

Sarah and James Get Married, 
Estes Park, CO

After our lovely drive through Rocky Mountain National Park we spent the afternoon and evening welcoming James into the Hall family. Sarah and James chose an amazing location on the outskirts of the park and had one of the most beautiful backgrounds that you could imagine. The event was made complete with the mooing of cows in the pasture between the ceremony and the mountains and a coyote catching rabbits (which Sarah saw at the beginning of the ceremony). 

We were so glad to be able to join in the celebration of their marriage and to continue celebrating with them the following Saturday in Ogallala.

The Reception, 
Haythorn Ranch, Arthur, NE

The reception was beautiful and was held at the Haythorn Ranch (which was established in 1884!) in the sand hills of Nebraska. It was an opportunity for friends and family alike to eat delicious home cooked food, dance as much as they wanted, and to enjoy wonderful cake (of course!). 

Henry Doorly Zoo,
Omaha, NE

For us the party continued at Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. We are agreed that it is one of the most amazing zoos on earth. With the aquarium, desert dome, rainforest, butterfly garden, swamp, gorilla house, Madagascar center, and sky tram it is more than anyone could ask for. Notice how I didn't mention the big cats, lemurs, and other amazing displays that they also have? That's because everything is so intriguing that you lose track of time and before you know it the day is done and the zoo is closing. (We also didn't get there until lunchtime, but we still wouldn't have had enough time to do it all. Our advice, plan two days!)

We decided to hop on the sky tram on this trip because it would provide a little bit of shade, be a new adventure, and give us a different perspective of the zoo. We were able to spot leopards that were hiding in the shade and out of other visitor's line of vision, flew over the heads of giraffes and ostriches, and had a bird's eye view of the rhinos. It was a real treat! (You should go, really!)

After the zoo we were able to spend the evening with our friends Jeremy and Kim who have just relocated to Omaha. We went out for delicious food and then made some delightful chocolate cherry almond chocolate chunk ice cream. You can have fun ice cream flavors like that with a little elbow grease. It's worth it, I promise!

The next day we continued our journey in eastern Nebraska to meet...

Baby Alice Hall, July 24, 2012
Blair, NE

Our newest niece (and the first Hall niece) was born in the wee hours of July 24. We received a call on our drive to the zoo that Heather was in labor and we awaited news all the day long to see if Alice had joined us in this world. We went to bed that night without a new family member, but had texts awaiting us in the morning when we woke up. 

We were excited to be in the area to meet this precious one since we have missed the births of our last three nieces and weren't sure when we would be able to make it to eastern Nebraska again. We spent a couple of hours cuddling this little beauty before we had to head back west for the next adventure.

Speedgoat 50k,
Snowbird, UT

Our final adventure for the month had us in Utah where Chris ran his first stateside ultra marathon. He chose a doozy of a race, one that the race director himself calls a nightmare. It is also called "a real mountain race" and that it is. I joyfully enjoyed this race from the top of Hidden Peak, watching runners as they pushed off of their knees for added momentum during climbs. 

Chris completed the 50k in about eight and a half hours, but I'll let him tell you more about that when he has time. It was an adventure that is not to be forgotten any time i the near future.


It makes me tired just thinking about our last two weeks in July. That's right. All of the above adventures took place in just two weeks. Talk about getting the biggest bang for your buck!

School starts Monday, so stay tuned for A WHOLE NEW ADVENTURE. This time in teaching!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

reading list

One of the few constants during our Peace Corps service was reading. We were both voracious readers before landing in Costa Rica and that didn't change once we set foot in Ticolandia. We both read a wide variety of books both in English and in Spanish.

During the past twenty-seven months we discovered new authors (Vonnegut & Toole) and reread favorites (The Last Season, anything by Kingsolver). We took advantage of the Peace Corps Volunteer library in San Jose while we were in service and upon our departure asked for suggestions from our friends and left with a suitcase full of Costa Rican literature. 

Here's a summary of what we read while living in the world of pura vida:

Tarah's Numbers:
Total Books: 88 Fiction: 72 Non-Fiction: 16 Spanish: 19

Chris's Numbers:
Total Books: 63 Fiction: 16 Non-Fiction: 47 Spanish: 21
  • Desert Solitaire** - Abbey (C&T)
  • Reservation Blues - Alexie (T)
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven - Alexie (C&T)
  • The Toughest Indian in the World - Alexie (C&T)
  • In the Time of the Butterflies - Alvarez (T&C)
  • The Last Season** - Blehm (C&T)
  • Don't Sweat the Small Stuff** - Carlson (T)
  • Through the Looking Glass - Carroll (T)
  • Don Quijote de la Mancha, I* - Cervantes (C)
  • Don Quijote de la Mancha, II* - Cervantes (C)
  • La Casa en Mango Street* - Cisneros (T)
  • El Perseguidor* - Cortázar (T&C)
  • Maggie, Una Chica de la Calle* - Crane (T&C)
  • Lakota Woman** - Crow Dog (T&C)
  • El Dia de la Venganza* - Daniels (T)
  • Diario del año de la peste* - Defoe (C)
  • Robinson Crusoe - Defoe (C&T)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Díaz (C&T)
  • The Sign of the Four - Doyle (T)
  • A Study in Scarlet - Doyle (T)
  • La Bahía de las Corrientes Irisadas* - Efremov (C)
  • Mamita Yunai* - Fallas (C&T)
  • Marcos Ramírez* - Fallas (C&T)
  • El Gran Gatsby* - Fitzgerald (C&T)
  • Everything is Illuminated - Foer (T)
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Foer (T&C)
  • The Pillars of the Earth - Follett (T)
  • World Without End - Follett (T)
  • Cold Mountain - Frazier (T)
  • La caída del águila* - Gagini (C&T)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude - Garcia Marquez (T)
  • Eat, Pray, Love** - Gilbert (T)
  • The Tipping Point - Gladwell (T&C)
  • Un Amante Italiano* - Gordon (C&T)
  • The Other Boleyn Girl - Gregory (T)
  • Wideacre - Gregory (T)
  • La Hoja de Aire - Gutiérrez (C)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time - Haddon (T&C)
  • Stranger in the Forest** - Hansen (C&T)
  • Luna de Miel con el Jefe* - Hart (T)
  • A Farewell to Arms - Hemingway (C)
  • A Widow for One Year - Irving (T)
  • The Murder Room - James (T)
  • The Dharma Bums - Kerouac (C&T)
  • Fear and Trembling - Kierkegaard (C)
  • Animal Dreams - Kinsolver (T)
  • The Bean Trees - Kingsolver (T)
  • Homeland and Other Stories - Kingsolver (T)
  • The Lacuna- Kingsolver (T)
  • Pigs in Heaven - Kingsolver (T)
  • The Poisonwood Bible - Kingsolver (T&C)
  • Prodigal Summer - Kingsolver (T)
  • Where Men Win Glory **- Krakauer (C&T)
  • The Hour I First Believed - Lamb (T)
  • A Sand County Almanac** - Leopold (C&T)
  • Mere Christianity - Lewis (T&C)
  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - Lewycka (C&T)
  • Call of the Wild - London (T&C)
  • El Silencio Blanco* - London (C)
  • Cuentos de mi tía Panchita* - Lyra (T&C)
  • Young Men and Fire** - Maclean (C)
  • Son of a Witch - Maguire (T)
  • La Muerte en Venecia* - Mann (C&T)
  • Siempre dama de honor* - Marsh (T)
  • Angela's Ashes** - McCourt (T)
  • Atrapados en el Ayer* - McCusker (T)
  • The Expected One - McGowan (T)
  • Misión en Venus y otros cuentos* - McIntosh (C)
  • Un Magnate Aventurero* - McMahon (T)
  • Moby Dick - Melville (C)
  • Breaking Dawn - Meyer (T 2x)
  • Crepúsculo* - Meyer (T)
  • Blue Like Jazz** - Miller (T&C)
  • Never Cry Wolf** - Mowat (C&T)
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running** - Murakami (C&T)
  • Worldwalk** - Newman (C&T)
  • The Time Traveler's Wife - Niffenegger (T)
  • Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte* - Quiroga (C)
  • Atlas Shrugged - Rand (T)
  • Biografía de Costa Rica* ** - Rodríguez Vega (C)
  • The Catcher in the Rye - Salinger (C&T)
  • Franny and Zooey - Salinger (T)
  • Push - Sapphire (C&T)
  • Naked** - Sedaris (T&C)
  • When You are Engulfed in Flames** - Sedaris (C&T)
  • The Bookseller of Kabul** - Seierstad (T&C)
  • Donde Viven Los Monstruos* - Sendak (C&T)
  • Juevos Verdes con Jamon* - Seuss (C&T)
  • Vox - Silva (T)
  • The Confusion - Stephenson (T)
  • Quicksilver - Stephenson (T)
  • Tormenta Silenciosa* - Stevens (T)
  • Ana Karenina - Tolstoy (T)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces - Toole (C&T)
  • The Neon Bible - Toole (C&T)
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Twain (C&T)
  • The Indian Frontier of the American West 1846-1890** - Utley (C)
  • Around the World in 80 Days - Verne (C&T)
  • Su Unico Amor* - Way (T)
  • El Bacilo Robado y otros cuentos* - Wells (C)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five - Vonnegut Jr. (C&T)
  • Breakfast of Champions - Vonnegut Jr. (C&T)
  • Aesop's Fables (C&T)
  • Costa Rica A Traveler's Literary Companion (T&C)
  • The Gospel of Matthew (C)
  • Simbad el Marino* (C)
  • * Spanish
  • ** Nonfiction
If you want to know what we enjoyed the most, let us know! We'd be more than happy to suggest a title.

June [moving, travelling, settling]

The weeks since we have returned from Costa Rica have kind of flown by. We've rushed around to find a place to live, to visit family and friends, and to explore New Mexico. June was a month that kept us on our toes, had us in seven or eight different states, and saw us starting to get settled into life in the US of A once more.

The month started with us hanging out at a new friend, Emily's, until our apartment complex finished some last minute repairs on the unit that we had rented. We moved in on the fifth and shortly thereafter flew to North Carolina so that we could start the process of moving our belongings across the country to make our new house a home.

Our time in North Carolina was a whirlwind. We were fortunate to see my family, including grandparents and some aunts and uncles. It was wonderful to see all of our nieces and finally meet Madelyn and Gabriella, who were both born while we were in Costa Rica. They were more than happy to tire us out with dance performances, music lessons, and games of chase. In the midst of family time we managed to squeeze in some time with friends from both our AmeriCorps days and Peace Corps days. 

While trying to get people time in, we also had to squeeze in some packing time. We sorted through endless tubs in my parents' basement, took trips to Goodwill, threw stuff out that managed to sneak onto the moving truck from Maine once upon a time, and eventually loaded up our truck that was New Mexico bound.

When we arrived in New Mexico we found that the tubs really were endless as a couple had stayed in North Carolina. Most notably, the tub with almost all of our kitchen supplies - pots, pans, lids, corkscrews. Thankfully we have understanding parents. My mom and dad sorted through stuff and pulled out the brand new set of pots and pans that we had purchased shortly before leaving Maine and shipped them to us. 

We have managed to mostly settle in now and are enjoying Gallup. The town is pretty happening in the summer. There are Indian Dances every evening from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There are free movies at the city library every Wednesday evening. The second Saturday of every month there is an arts crawl in downtown. Most nights of the week there are softball games in the park behind out apartment complex (we've even managed to be roped into playing with some of our friends on occasion when subs are needed). There are great trail systems nearby.

It's been crazy. We're already quickly approaching the end of July and still have a lot left on our summer to do list. School (grad school and teaching) starts in August, so we'd better get a move on it!

*Note: in the process of moving from Costa Rica to New Mexico our computer got stressed out and decided to quit working. Therefore posts will be infrequent until we get new computers ordered (hopefully in a couple of weeks). They will also lack photos. Sorry about that; just wanted to let everyone know we are alive and well and still taking the world by storm!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reflecting on Peace Corps

When you think about a twenty seven month commitment it can seem like a long time. It can also seem like a pretty short period of time when you look at other time periods in your life. I mean think about it, a traditional education from kindergarten to twelfth grade is roughly one hundred thirty months. Even so, when we stepped off of the plane in hot and humid San Jose on March 2, 2010 twenty seven months seemed like it would last an eternity.

Training didn't make that time frame seem any shorter. In fact at the end of those eleven weeks it felt like we had been sucked into a strange time warp in which seconds last months or even years. We had some good times and made some good friends, but it left us questioning our decision to serve with Peace Corps. But, not having experienced the service aspect yet, we decided to stick it out.

The two years that followed were full of ups and downs. If you've been following our blog all along, this isn't news to you. We had moments of joy and sadness as well as moments of success and defeat. There were many moments when we questioned our service.

Those moments of questioning often came when we were feeling sad or defeated. It's hard to leave behind your family and friends, your home, a job where you feel you are making a difference, and your language. Thankfully we had each other. When everything else in life was throwing us for a loop we could rely on the love and support that has provided such a strong base for our relationship and marriage. We often talked about how amazing it is that so many people serve as volunteers by themselves (props to you guys!).

It was those challenging moments that made it worth it in the end. The endless frustrations of trying to improve the colé and wrap up the CRUSA grant, the drawn out process of starting up an academic support group, the low attendance rates at exercise class, and the slowness of the postal service when trying to do a cultural exchange. When the last of the CRUSA money was spent and the colé was a little more accommodating for students, it was worth it. When the students in the academic support group moved on to the next grade level (and asked if they could continue with the group the following year), it was worth it. When fifteen women showed up to aerobics and stayed after to thank me for offering classes, it was worth it. When students received letters from their pen pals in the states and excitedly wrote back, it was worth it.

This was just one aspect of our service though. On top of our many work frustrations and successes, there were also language and cultural successes. When we arrived in Costa Rica it had been nearly ten years since either of us had used our Spanish. We entered the country barely being able to communicate and left being able to hold meaningful conversations with our friends, host family, and work partners. We were even asked to serve as translators when a mission group came into town.

Culturally we experienced some challenges that most do and some that many do not. One of the biggest challenges that we faced was the fact that we are married. Being in a country that is very family oriented meant that we did not receive the numerous invites to spend afternoons with community members that most single volunteers do. We were not invited to join in with other families for celebrations. We are after all our own family. While frustrating, it also gave us the privacy that some volunteers long for. In the end though we broke through that barrier. We were invited to spend weekends away with friends. We were invited out to the family farm. We were brought copious amounts of food by community members so that we wouldn't starve during our final days in site after we gave away our rice cooker. We were embraced as members of the community.

Those challenging things to give up - family, friends, home, job, and language? You just learn to embrace the new ones laid out in front of you. You become part of a new family and make new friends. You create a new home for yourself. You make a difference through your new job. You learn and use a new language. They become a part of who you are.

So, that twenty seven month commitment? It flew by. Yes there were slow times, but in the end it was hard to believe that the end had arrived. As we piled ourselves and our luggage into our friends Orlando and Alejandra's car and drove to the airport at two in the morning we realized just how much can happen in two years. You forget how uncomfortable it was to leave the life you knew behind. You forget how long and drawn out training seemed. You're able to ignore the frustrations and focus on the celebrations. Twenty seven months is after all just that, twenty seven months. So why not do something extraordinary with them? It may not be anything like you imagined; it may be more, it may be less. But in the grand scheme of things it's life. The challenges and successes make it that much more interesting.

Friday, June 1, 2012

May [departures and arrivals]

Wow. May is done and over with. That is kind of hard to believe. It is hard to believe that another chapter in our lives has come to a close and that a new one has started full force. There have been a lot of changes during the past 31 days, and while we have been sad to say goodbye to one part of our lives, we have embraced the start of our newest adventure full force. We have said goodbye to jungle living and hello to desert living. We have left one country and arrived in another. We have left one family only to return to our family in the states. If you want to more, stay tuned. Here she comes, May...

May 1

Orlando called us at 8 to see if we had anything planned for the day. An hour later we were meeting up to head out to the San Juan River for a day of adventure!

May 2

We did parachute games and jump rope during the first recreo and played elbow tag during the second one.

May 3

Chris woke me up this morning and sent me packing to get some medicine. The medical office called in three prescriptions, hopefully I'll stop being sick soon.

May 4

We had fun in story hour, but the kids were a little distracted since a mama bird kept flying in to feed her baby birds - their nest is in the classroom wall.

May 5

We spent the morning walking around with Chamisa and showing her the banana fields and talking about the area. This afternoon we went to Orlando and Alejandra's for a pizza dinner and to upcycle!

May 6

We started packing bags. Scary.

May 7

Busy, busy. Bingo prep, hand washing charla prep, aerobics and more packing.

May 8

We had a lot of fun working with the kinder kids from Malinche today. We ran around, played a little and taught them how to properly wash their hands. Good stuff.

May 9

Chris met up with some cole guys to play basketball. I stopped by Ariela's to chat for a little bit. I'm not sure how this whole goodbye process will go.

May 10

Emptied our bank accounts this morning . Walked out the CTP to see Carlos and say goodbye. Prepped for our final story hour.

May 11

Yoga this morning followed by a million little kid hugs. Not a bad way to start the day. It was a mostly happy hasta luego, perhaps because we'll still be around for a couple of days.

Maria came to the door holding a dead fish in her hand. She asked if we ate fish and a couple of hours later she showed up with delicious pescado entero for our lunch.

May 12

We were blessed with more food treats today. Maria brought us pinto for breakfast. She brought us spaghetti for lunch and jello for dessert. On top of that Axel stopped by and we got some delicious bread!

May 13

Por Fin! The bingo event that Chris dreamed up during out Close of Service conference has happened. In a matter of 12 hours we organized, transported prizes, set up and hosted our final extravaganza in La Colonia.

May 14

We walked around and said some goodbyes today. It was hard to avoid tears with little kids giving us hugs and telling us that they loved us and would miss us. We handed out some thank you cards and gave a couple of gifts to some of the kids that were at every event that we hosted. 

May 15

May 16

We said our goodbyes to the PANI (equivalent of DSS) office this morning and then went back to the house to do a final cleanup. We rode out of town on our bikes, a great way to really see the banana fields one last time. 

May 17

Final day at the office. Full of business and goodbyes. We got back to Orlando and Alejandra's around 5:30 in time for a delicious dinner.

May 18

We ate an early lunch with Rebecca and then went out the hotel. We spent the afternoon watching the wildlife and then met up with fellow runners at Selva Verde for the pre-race meeting and some dinner.

May 19

Hot day for a run, but it was a nice one. We all enjoyed dips in the river when we finished (Chris a 50 miler, myself and some others a 15k).

May 20

Last day in Costa Rica. We ate pinto for breakfast and then swam for a bit. We had lunch in Puerto and then went back to Orlando and Alejandra's. We got in right before the storm and so I sat with Suzy for the afternoon since she was afraid and kept wanting to come inside. We had a delicious dinner and wonderful last night with Orlando and Alejandra.

May 21

Mission accomplished. We have officially completed our 27 months of service. It's nice to be with family again, feeling the love!

May 22

Project readjustment. Biggest complaint so far, American accents. I miss Spanish!

May 23

Called some landlords, emailed some principals. We're trying to get this next step in our lives figured out.

May 24

We had a wonderful afternoon in Lewellen. We ate delicious food at An Unexpected Place and then did some wine tasting at 17 Ranch. We spent the evening playing ladder golf, eating good food and playing Scrabble.

May 25

Another fun day with family.

May 26

Sarah left this morning and the rest of us went out garage sale-ing. Chris and I ended up with 19 new books, picked out about 16 from a box Linda bought, and a new bookshelf (we may need it!).

May 27

Last day in Ogallala. JD and Heather left after lunch. We had a nice evening with Bruce and Linda chatting and eating delicious pie.

May 28

New Mexico! New state, new home.

May 29

We looked at a lot of houses and some apartments today. Chris finally convinced me that it would be best to go small and inexpensive for now and save up for a down payment. So we put a security deposit on a two bed, one bath apartment and are waiting to hear back on a background check (their system was down today, so we'll hopefully know tomorrow).

May 30

We went to Red Rock Park this morning and hiked for a couple of hours. It is so beautiful here!

This afternoon we walked around downtown. Everyone is so nice. We watched some Indian dancing in the town square and grabbed some fry bread for dinner. Delicious! We walked back to Emily's and then went to watch a softball game that a bunch of other RPCVs/Fellows were playing in.

May 31

Another day, another hike. We also spent more time downtown and met more wonderful people. We heard back on the apartment, it's ours! Unfortunately we need to wait until Tuesday to move in. We were so hopeful that we could have it tomorrow, oh well. Another softball game this evening and then out with the team for a bit.


As you can see it's been quite the month. We haven't quite processed the whole moving back to the states thing yet, it's sure to happen once we actually get all of our stuff moved to New Mexico and we take a moment to sit back and breathe (before heading off on more adventures!). So much to do, so little time. We're excited about what is to come and can't wait to settle down in New Mexico!


The final weeks of our service went by a lot faster than we ever imagined they would. We had planned our close of service pretty thoroughly and had a calendar set up indicating what we would be doing each and every day during our last ten weeks in Costa Rica. True to our experiences during our time with Peace Corps, events were added, removed, and/or changed (several times). In the end we worked as long as we could and then we celebrated our time in La Colonia with bingo, actos civicos, karaoke, good food, hugs, and unavoidable tears.

Our despedidias (goodbyes) began on a Friday, during our final story hour with the materno and kinder kids. When we finished story hour we presented each classroom with a book, Huevos Verdes con Jamon to materno and De la Cabeza a los Pies to kinder. They in turn presented us with books of their own drawings and stories. We somehow managed to make it through the presentation, hugs, kisses and photos without tears. It was close though. The teachers had explained that we would be flying back to the United States and so the students bombarded us with questions about what it was like to fly, if we would be scared and how long it would take. Their curiosities curbed the pain of saying goodbye.

One of the drawings from our kinder kids (notice Chris' beard!)
A couple of days later we hosted a Sunday afternoon Adios Gringo Bingo for the community. We had acquired quite a bit during our service and we didn't want to bring it all back to the states with us. So, we sorted through everything - balls, toys, clothes, storage containers, school supplies, kitchen supplies and some electronics and prepared to give it all away. We didn't want to favor any given community member or family and so hosting the bingo seemed like a fun way to say some goodbyes and to thank everyone from La Colonia for their support over the last two years. With the support of our friends Orlando and Alejandra we secured all of the necessary bingo equipment and were able to spend several hours with roughly 150 community members that braved the rain storms to come out and play. Everything that we had prepared as prizes disappeared and found new homes with wonderful people.

Orlando helping to call numbers during our bingo
On Tuesday the tears started flowing. The escuela hosted two actos civicos (assemblies) so that all of the students would have a chance to say goodbye. There were many kind words, each class presented us with going away gifts and we received lots of hugs. We teared up and cried as we said our goodbyes, realizing that after two years we really were leaving the people that welcomed us into their community and their hearts.

Our morning kids

Our afternoon kids
The goodbyes continued that evening as the teachers from the escuela and cole and the school PTA hosted a dinner for us at a local restaurant complete with dancing and karaoke. We had good food and a lot of laughs. Orlando, Maikol, and Alejandra tried teaching us how to dance, we actually sang karaoke, and once again we were presented with little going away gifts. 

Goodbye dinner with teachers and PTA
The following day we packed up our remaining belongings (we had already taken some stuff to Orlando and Alejandra's), said some final goodbyes and then rode out of town. Literally, on bikes. People asked us when we were leaving and we would respond, "now," and they looked at us like we were crazy, shrugged it off, and wished us well. 

We kept saying goodbye over the next several days. We had a final trip to the Peace Corps office during which we had some final meetings, signed off on some paperwork and met up with some friends. We had a last lunch at a favorite restaurant with our friend and nearest fellow volunteer, Rebecca. We met up with a whole slew of volunteers at the Q50 race in Sarapiqui (I'm sure a blog is coming soon-ish from Chris about his latest ultra-marathon). And then, our final and hardest goodbye to Orlando and Alejandra as they dropped us off at the airport at 4:15am (what amazing friends to take us to the airport at 2:30am!).

Chris cooling off in Rio Sarapiqui after completing his 50 mile race
We were surprised to see our friends Nick and Monique at the airport. They were our fellow language group volunteers during training. We came in together, we left together (where were you Ari!). What a journey.