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.