England: Day 2 in Yorkshire

Day two, up and at ‘em early we were! Our day began with a proper English breakfast of eggs, toast, sausage, bacon, AND beans. All of that pub-sitting the day before meant we had earned a hearty meal. Right? Right. Sure, whatever.

First stop? The playground! (Don’t mind me being bow-legged, it goes back to horseback riding days…oh wait, right, I’m afraid of horses. So yeah, I have no explanation, just don’t mind it, I’m squatting awkwardly and James is watching me do so.)

IMG_0422Right after this next picture was taken, James fell off the playset. Oops. Becky and I had fun climbing the spider web thingy though (and he was fine)!

IMG_0424Following the tumble, James preferred lower ground and insisted upon driving his dad around in the truck. It reminds me of the Flintstones for some reason!

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Onward and upward with the day – next stop, the steam train!

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IMG_0435This next series shows idiotic parenting. We start with a cute little picture of the train, James, and me. Aww, what a great adventure we’re having!

IMG_0437Oh shit, it’s a steam train, and it’s leaving. Fuck, it’s steamy. We’re getting covered in steam train shit. Goddammit.

IMG_0438Holy protective momma bear. My baby is getting covered in steam train shit and good lord that whistle is LOUD.

IMG_0439Let’s get out of here and take quaint little pictures of English countryside villages. Yes, heart garlands fit the bill.

IMG_0443This should not surprise anyone that knows us.

IMG_0450We did not buy these. Though if I even need a place to purchase my reet good proper porkie scratchings, I now know where to go.

IMG_0391Moving right along, a proper English tea at Betty’s!

IMG_0456Contrary to my uh-oh-we’re-in-a-fancy-place-with-an-18-month-old expectations, James was a little delight during our afternoon tea (once we fed him the chocolate cake).

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IMG_0473Ooooh, look at me, pouring proper English tea!IMG_0467And eating proper English tea cakes!IMG_0466Tea is exhausting.

IMG_0397And there you have it, our England adventure! Tomorrow, onward to Spain!

England: Day 1 in Yorkshire

Following our whirlwind two days in London, we hopped on a train northbound to Yorkshire, the countryside full of sheep and green and rolling hills.

Some of us were really excited about the train:

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Okay, okay, all of us were really excited about the train:

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The two and a half hour journey sailed on by as the landscape changed right before our eyes. Before we knew it, voila, the land of sheep and holy-moley-Yorkshire-accents!

Reunited with Jo, we began our explore of her homeland. First on tap, a drive through the Yorkshire Dales, a magnificently beautiful National Park that just so happens to house a magnificently quaint little Yorkshire pub that just so happened to be holding a magnificently enticing little beer festival. We decided we simply must stop.

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I enjoyed a truly delightful cider – fermented perfectly and entirely unfiltered. Delish! Back on the road, we carried on smartly to a quaint little village where James requested a photo-op. Take a picture of me with the cobblestones, he commanded (and we obliged).

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Following our little countryside drive, we headed back to Jo’s for a quick rest before a wander to the village pub. James declared us all to be massive embarrassments and chose to sit by himself. We obliged for about thirty seconds before we rained on his parade (we’re his parents, that’s our job).

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Following a pint (okay, or two pints), we were all beat and headed home to bed. Day two of Yorkshire to come!

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England: London with an 18 month old

A success, oh what a success.  Our trip was simply wonderful, the whole darn thing from start to finish.

Let’s jump in…

We arrived in England a bit worn and weary, but ready to go. We were in a new land and only one quick train ride stood between us and a reunion with a dear friend. Or maybe not a quick train ride…and not really one train ride either…but regardless. It took us about an hour and a half to get from Heathrow to Hackney, but excitement carried us most of the way. The man with the dog on the final leg was just what James needed when his enthusiasm began to wane.

Just what we needed when our enthusiasm started to wane? Duh, a local Hackney brew, enjoyed on Becky’s back stoop while James played in the yard. The perfect welcome, indeed.

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Following a leisurely lunch and some more back stoop sitting, we meandered our way into London.  In typical Kara and Chris fashion, we soon grew thirsty and paused to enjoy our first local cask ale. James, by this point, was in the midst of enjoying his first of many stroller naps (we all win).

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Piddling along after our pint, we made our way through Hackney into Shoreditch and onward to Brick Lane, home to Christopher’s dreams: real Bengali food (and real Bengali folk with whom to practice his real Bengali).  Dinner was great, the poor boy was exhausted, and our final pint was shared with another stroller-napping customer.

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Stroller-napping soon turned into bedtime for all the weary travelers, and we wrapped up our first day in London with a leisurely stroll home, a quick settling in, and off to bed we went.  Despite the potential for jetlag, we all slept like logs.

Day two welcomed us with the promise of more adventure. On tap was more walking, a bus ride, a wander by the river, a taking-in of some sights, and a reunion with old friends. Suffice to say we were beat by the end, but so very grateful for the adventures we enjoyed.

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Salt beef makes great fuel (and English mustard is delicious):

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Mongolia Reunion (over pints and chips, duh)!

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And when all was said and done, a final London stroller nap. Sweet, sweet boy.

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Flashback Friday: that time the SWAT team was in our neighborhood

SWAT 2Today we flashback to…yesterday.

I got stuck at work later than usual, so James and I were a bit delayed in our journey home. We pittered along though, stopped for a quick errand, wound our way through Newton. Tra la la, the last leg of the journey, James, see the fire statio…oh…umm…uhh? Police barricade? Hmm.

I pull up alongside the barricade, Uhh, excuse me, officer? I live…down there?

No go. Go around, he said.

What he didn’t say was that going around wouldn’t matter, because barricades blocked all of the roads home. We ventured as close as we could, snuck around one final barricade (I’m not always the best at following rules), and made our way to the church parking lot – which was full of news trucks and a giant police bus labeled Command Central.  What?

I called to the police standing on top of Command Central (Mama Bear Kara is bolder than plain old Kara) and requested information. What I got? Please just stay here for the time being.  Not enough for Mama Bear. I live there; I need to know a little more about what is going on, if my house is safe, why the fuck there are SWAT vehicles all over my neighborhood. Oh, Mama Bear means business.

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I got a half-story about a man threatening to do things to himself and assurance that all was okay now, just tidying up the heaps of police and SWAT team members, clearing the street of armored vehicles. Really.

So James and I hung out in the church parking lot for a bit until we received clearance to go ahead up into the neighborhood, the streets of which were still lined with police cars, SWAT vans, newscasters. It was surreal. James LOVED it. So much squealing, glee, excitement. A neighborhood full of diggers, dump trucks, and armored vehicles.

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Just another day in the hood.

Oh, what actually happened? There was a guy with a knife threatening to harm himself, so they said. It has to have been more than that, but as of yet the real details remain unknown. (Last I saw of the SWAT team they were parked down the way, grabbing a slice from the local pizza joint.)

Another rough day in Newton.

 

 

Nigeria: the quirks (as I define them)

Ranking up there on my list of most favorite things in the world are quirks. Quirks of all sorts, shapes, kinds. To me, they are the spice of life, and they are most spectacularly magnificent when traveling in foreign lands. Mind you, some folks might categorize what I perceive to be quirks as what the rest of the world perceives to be pains in the rear. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

In the quirks department, Nigeria did not disappoint, so here we go…

  • Somewhere outside of my hotel room door, someone plays Enrique Iglesias’ Hero on repeat everyday. Celine Dion and Bette Midler (seriously?!) come in at times, but Enrique is the one I hear the most. It’s inside the hotel too, not outside. It wouldn’t be so bad except that I’ve been hotel-bound for three days while in-country, and I can’t stand Enrique. I don’t want him to be my hero; I want him to shut up.
  • As a greeting, Nigerians say you are welcome. It’s a reversal of our usual thank you, you’re welcome. Here it goes you are welcome, followed by the white girl saying thank you!

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  • There are security guards everywhere. The entrance to the hotel parking lot, the entrance to the hotel, on my floor at the hotel. The entrance to the office building where we work. The entrance to a store, to the clinic, to the bank. Everywhere. It’s a lot of security. Job security? Security job.
  • The shower in my bathroom has a waterfall-type shower head (how lovely), a hand-held shower thing, and jets that shoot directly out at about stomach-level.  The first two are nice, the third…I would not describe as nice.

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  • Nigerian cell phones (or at least the one I was loaned) remind you that you’re wasting energy. How lovely!

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  • They were a British colony, but they drive on the right side of the road.
  • Our hotel keys expire every day. Finally they coded them so they would not expire until we left. I wonder why the daily expiration?
  • There is a restaurant in the airport. The international airport of the capital city of Nigeria. On the menu? Rice…cheese sandwich…no, no cheese sandwich. (I drank a coke, ate a sleeve of crackers, and inhaled a Snickers…and took the only photo of me in the country of Nigeria. That smile? It’s my travel grin).

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Nigeria: thoughts and reflections on a conflicted place

Photos to come shortly…

Nigeria has a rough reputation: dangerous, malaria-y, Ebola-y, unsafe. Before I left home, I was bombarded with all sorts of warnings about travel here. There were shots and pills and so much advice I could hardly keep it straight as to how to just be in Nigeria. It intimidated me. Not to the point that I wasn’t excited about the trip, but to the point where I wondered if this journey was one step too far.

The verdict, upon arriving at the final night of my trip?

Nigeria is a beautiful place, full of kind people, and currently in the midst of a really tough time in its history. The country fights with itself, struggles with how to handle the oil wealth, works against itself. There are disputes, arguments, things far worse.

But my experience?

Nigeria is a beautiful place. Workers clean the streets fastidiously. There is pride in the heritage. Sadness at where the country is now, but pride in the heritage.

There are a lot of guns, a lot of men with big guns. Guns intimidate me, as I suppose they are intended to do. But there are a lot here, too many. It reminds me of Mexico in that sense – there are just too many men riding around, walking around, carrying really big guns.

There are also a lot of women dressed in absolutely beautiful traditional Nigerian dress. Vibrant colors, unique styles, gorgeous head wraps. Nigerians are a striking people – truly beautiful. And their children? Absolutely beautiful, each and every one of them.

The health system could use some work, but they’re getting there. Health systems are complicated things – we’re all aware of that. But they’re trying and the staff means well and they’re doing the best that they can.  Which is all one can really ask for, right? The best that they can.

The divide between the haves and the have-nots is growing. We drove past a house with a roof so large and tall I think my entire house would fit in it. In the ROOF. Not in the house, in the ROOF. There’s a lot of money, but it’s concentrated in the hands of very, very few. It seems to be a growing trend in the world, and I don’t think it will lead us anywhere good.

Despite all of the hardship, they dance. They dance when they receive the marriage license; they dance in the streets of their village; they dance. My two left feet and I could learn a thing or two from them in that regard. Dance.

So I thank you, Nigeria, for a quick but productive visit. For sharing your people, your culture, your land with me. For reminding me that in every single situation there is beauty to be found. For daring me to see that perceptions from afar may be just that: perceptions. To learn the truth, one must see it with one’s own eyes., which is not to say to ignore that problems exist. Rather, to acknowledge those problems and still, somehow, see the beauty in spite of them.

Nigeria, I hope to see you again some day.

Nigeria: poolside dining

Photos to come shortly…

Hotel-bound for the weekend, we’ve taken to eating lunch poolside, under a little awning, with a cool African breeze. It’s quite nice, though it does take much longer than at home. The first day we enjoyed an hour and a half late lunch, yesterday two hours in total, and today a very quick one hour. The pace of life is slow here, relaxed as it must be in a hot climate. I enjoy it. There is no pride in declaring one’s busyness – in fact, it seems the opposite might be most desirable. I think my happy place lies somewhere in the middle, but for now, the Nigerian pace is just right. It has been a long year of little sleep – I’m making up for that pace with this new one.

One thing that is interesting is that we’ve been told, warned, whatever you want to call it, to be careful; it’s dangerous; stay in the hotel. But we feel safe (in the hotel and at our work sites - we’re not out wandering the streets by ourselves by any means). We’re hopeful that is not a false perception, but rather just a culture all too aware that such feelings can quickly change. All the same, we do as we are told, stay at the hotel, only ride with project staff, be smart with our choices. We have no interest in testing their assertions.

Anyways, during our two hour lunch by the pool, how delightful, we noticed a group of army-clad men sitting at the table next to us. Rather large army-clad men. I thought little of it, other than that they were noticeable in that they were large army-clad men. So we ordered our overly particular, nervous-bellied traveler lunches, and sat to enjoy the breeze. I noticed a whistling sound in the background, but thought nothing of it, as the air here is never quiet – music plays, people shout, leaves rustle. Well…I guess they thought something of it, because sure enough the three jumped out of their seats, grabbed their giant guns (they had giant guns?! I didn’t see those when we sat down!), and were off. To where? We don’t know. They didn’t return, but that’s not to say they went anywhere in particular. Such quick bursts of energy must surely be followed by long bouts of relaxation in the land of the heat and humidity.

What did we do? We looked at each other funny. I giggled in that nervous way I tend to. And then we waited for our lunch, because what was the sense in getting all riled up about something we would never understand? We figured there wasn’t much sense. So we sat and waited, conversed about the wonder of an hour and a half lunch.

And that’s just it: in a land not your own, you’ll never understand the why of locals’ actions, so as long as you’re safe, best to sit back and enjoy a leisurely lunch.

Nigeria: day 1 of site visits

Photos to come shortly…

9am pick-up, day 1. The driver retrieved us and brought us to the office first thing. My travel buddy and I had both enjoyed not-hot showers and a granola bar in our temporary hotel room, and away we went – weary from two days of travel, but eager to get going.

Our first stop, after a quick orientation at the main office, was the local government’s office in hopes of retrieving clinic budgets and the like (the local clinics are all funded by the government, at least in part). The lady we needed to speak with was not there (we had also not alerted her to the fact that we would arrive when we did), but what was there in the little square outside her office was groups of people, all dressed very nicely, singing, dancing, and celebrating, all in their own little groups. What did they celebrate? Someone in the group receiving their marriage license, of course (I don’t recall such celebration when Chris and I received ours…). It was pretty cool…such flavor, these Nigerians. I like it. A reminder to my stiff self to dance freely, openly, often. And to wear vibrant colors. The colors of their clothing – just beautiful!

Anyways, denied by the government, we headed to the first clinic on our list. Lots of staff interviewing ensued. At first they were less than receptive (not surprising), but as we made our way through the afternoon and poked a little fun at ourselves, they warmed to us and offered all the information we needed. It was fun…and eye-opening after traveling in so many countries where I’ve had to fight a language barrier – the connection is so much more fluid without that barrier in between. By the time we left, we shared smiles and handshakes, and my travel partner and I felt eager for the week to come.

Back up though, the interviews: what are they for, who did we talk to, what information did we collect?

So we’re working on a cost efficiency study that should, in theory, tell us if the costs of services have decreased following the introduction of a cell phone or tablet uploaded with health messaging for the clinic staff. They enter women into the system as clients, and given what they have entered, the system prompts for certain things. For example, if a woman is pregnant, the system will prompt for next visit, immunization, anti-malarials, etc. In theory, it’s a great way to remind staff of all the small details involved in comprehensive care. In practice, we have no proof that it does anything at all, let alone what we hope it does. So we’re here, trying to find the information that will tell us if what we think is happening is what is actually happening. We speak with the staff of the clinics – community health extension workers, midwives, nurses, laboratory technicians, cleaners, whoever is available – to request all sorts of information: how many hours they work, how many clients they treat per month, what services they offer. On day one, this took about four hours. By day three, we were in and out in just over two. Lesson learned in the research business: know not only the information you want, but the proper way to ask the questions so it’s clear to everyone involved exactly what you are looking for. We’ve gotten good.

Anyways, some scattered thoughts from the first day:

  • The clinic is quite primitive. Maybe more so than Mongolia? At least on the same page, but either way, it seems to do the trick given all of the healthy moms and babies that strolled through the door while we were there. It makes me chuckle all the more about everything we have convinced ourselves that we need…all the necessities that are really quite the opposite.
  • Brain drain is real. We met with a doctor (outside of work) and he explained to us an entire list of negative impacts that doctors leaving have on the public. The government pays for their education, and they leave the country. It’s tricky…I don’t blame them for wanting something more for themselves and for knowing that they can obtain it outside of their country…but at the same time, the need here is great.
  • People are people. It’s always a refreshing reminder to me when I travel. Despite all of the differences we can see in the world, at the end of the day most people out there are good, kind souls who just want to earn a decent living, share a nice existence with their families, and have a bit of time to enjoy. The context may be different, but the desires are much the same.
  • Two red eye flights in a row are not pleasant. There’s no way around that one. We were beat.
  • Developing country smell: I forget it as soon as I leave, but it’s so familiar to me every time I return. I love it.
  • They really do carry things – lots of things! – on their heads. I’m in awe.
  • They also carry people – the cutest, sweetest, tiniest, littlest people – on their backs. I’m in love.
  • Sometimes all you need when you want to change money is a little hut by the side of the road. Just pull up on the curb, pass the money out the window, and in will come your Nigerian Naira. No joke.

So that’s that. Day one in a foreign land. The exhilaration of travel never ends.

Nigeria: the journey here

Photos will be added shortly.

I flew through Heathrow on my way to Nigeria, an uneventful journey. A long flight, sure, but an uneventful journey. I even trekked all the way into London to enjoy a nice lunch with an old friend. Then back to the airport to wait for the next flight, onward to Abuja.

I sat next to two Nigerian men on the plane, both of them currently living and working in the States. One man worked in the same field as me, the other I’m not sure. We chatted…they both felt the anxious excitement of returning to their homeland. I felt mostly nerves. And sleep-deprivation. But mostly nerves. Our conversation eased those nerves a little bit, but the pre-arrival jitters get me every time I travel to a foreign land. They are my least favorite part of travel, and curiously, Chris’ favorite part of travel (which is one more reason we make a good duo). Without my other half though, I felt the nerves. Especially in traveling to a land I had never visited before, one fraught with warnings of illness and terror and crime. But I chatted nonetheless, and that conversation served to remind me that the warnings of all things bad, while necessary, apply to a very tiny percent of the population, and most people in the world are just doing their best to raise a family, hold a good job, live a peaceful life. So I relaxed a bit, and onward we flew, into the night.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the warmth and humidity even at 5am. The airport could use some repairs and certainly was not a cosmopolitan, capital city-type place. But it functioned, and we made our way down the stairs through customs with minimal trouble. Our temperatures were taken by a nurse-looking lady before our passports could be stamped – a sure sign of the current Ebola situation affecting this part of Africa. Speaking of Ebola, the Nigerians are confident that the outbreak is contained in their country – not a single person has voiced any concern to us that Ebola will continue to be a problem here (though, of course, we remain aware). Anyways, after passport check, it was out to baggage claim where my bag arrived right on cue, surely a good sign? I took it as such.

As we wandered out the door, into our home for the week, we were greeted by a staff member from the organization for which I work – he held a little piece of paper with my name on it, and upon seeing that little piece of paper, I felt my body relax the tension I didn’t realize it held. We had been retrieved, swept away in the arms of someone who knew this foreign land. Relief.

The drive into the city began with 5am darkness, only to have the city illuminate before us as the sun rose. Abuja is more expansive than I imagined – a city built in a vast open space. There are not many tall buildings, though cranes dominate the skyline so surely that lack is short-lived. We passed the national mosque, just across the way from the national church, and the realities of the land began to come clear.

The drivers here are crazy, though not as crazy as in Mongolia and not as plentiful either. I felt safe driving around, and still do. Roads construction abounds, but again, not as bad as in Mongolia and not as crazy. More feelings of safeness.

Arrival at our hotel greeted us with…confusion. You need a room? We don’t have a reservation, and we are full, very full. Hmm, tricky, because we have a confirmation that says you will have a room. Anyways, we played the part of the patient foreigners, and soon enough, we were parked in a temporary room where we could at least wash off the two days of travel and drink a cup of instant coffee (it tasted delicious, evaporated milk and all). I spent more time than I normally would simply staring out the window, soaking in the place I would call home for a brief time.

Shortly thereafter, the driver from work was back to retrieve us. Off we went, to day one of work in Nigeria.

To be continued…

Flashback Friday: That time we pulled an all-nighter and drove to Vegas

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Some things seem like a good idea at the time. Fast forward six years and one kid later, and some things seems like an even better idea…in a well-rested, young, carefree dream world.

So we flashback to the days when ridiculous road trips to Las Vegas not only sounded like a good idea, but were also entirely feasible, fueled by a diet of Mountain Dew, Doritos, and gummy worms.

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We were young, newly minted as a dynamic duo, and (after some coaxing) Chris convinced me that a long weekend in Vegas, bookended by two twelve hour days in the car, would be an adventure nothing short of delightful. So we scheduled our departure for Thursday evening after work, and away we went…off into the night.

I remember pulling into a gas station in Utah to stock up on the essential snacks and drinks. A full moon illuminated the sky in one of those eerie dark but not at all dark kind of nights. Given the Utah scenery, our adventure felt far more exotic than an all-night drive in a 1996 Mazda Protégé.  I dozed in and out, and I distinctly remember waking up to Chris singing Yonder Mountain. Pure joy from a man on an adventure with some new chick by his side.

He drove all night, as it was only a year or so ago that I finally learned to drive a stick. I copiloted, fiddled with the iPod, replenished the snacks, yapped non-stop. The sun rose and we did the only logical thing we could think of: we pulled into the first casino we found across the Nevada border.

A few rounds of blackjack and childish giggling later, we climbed back into the Protégé and carried on to our destination: Vegas, baby, Vegas.

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The weekend passed in a flurry of cheap beer, stinky casinos, a bit of rugby, and plenty of laughter. Hell, we had driven to Vegas! For a weekend! We were living the life.

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Sunday rolled around, and thus marked the long voyage home. Our In-n-Out hopes were dashed by Easter Sunday (Nooooooooooooo!), so we found some other crummy joint to eat and then hit the road. Driving, driving, driving. Laughing, laughing, laughing. It’s amazing how alive one can feel during a twelve hour car ride in a car where the air conditioning has been swapped for a good looking new man. We chatted. Schemed. Daydreamed. Felt the beginning realizations that we just might have met someone pretty damn special.

In one of those unexplainable memory kind of ways, I distinctly remember driving down from the mountains back into Denver, and listening to Chris sing Jerry Jeff Walker. The Lady Beside Me came on; he rested his hand on my leg and continued to sing.

It stuck with me, for whatever reason I’ll never be sure.

But what I can be sure of, is that it didn’t seem entirely coincidental that four years later he sang the very same song to me as we danced our first dance together as husband and wife. And while the adventures of today take on a slightly different feel, they still hold that same sense of excitement and the simple joy of being on the road with my favorite person by my side.