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 been, 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’re 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 I 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.

Swapping the grand for the simple

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These days fly by in a whirl of motion, a speedy toddler, the hustle and bustle of getting up, ready and out for the day, the joy of the daycare pick up, the exhaustion of late afternoon.  They blend into one.

In an effort to take back our time, I’ve been playing a little game. A game of intention. A game of being present. A game of sharing laughter, smiles, joy…a game that brings me back from my perpetual daydreams about what next, where to, when can we go?

I’m guilty of it…the daydreaming. It’s what brought us here, and here, and here. And it’s a piece of me that I hold so very, very dear. But it works counter to the notion of being present, embracing the day, sharing the joy of a sweet little boy.

So this weekend, we stayed local. We went took the T to the aquarium (given that it’s still summer, I don’t think we can check it off the list just yet), wandered the streets of Chinatown (red bean buns!), perused the open air market on the Greenway, picked up some fruit at Haymarket. We ate a leisurely fish and chips lunch, enjoyed some time by the water. When all was said and done, we wandered back through Boston Common, and rather than hopping right on a train home, we sat.

That’s all. We sat. In the park, with James whirling about in a sea of toddler curiosity. I chose a tree root as my perch of choice. Chris preferred the grass. But either way, we sat. We lolled away an hour during our park sit. An hour of peace, quiet, people watching, toddler freedom.

The most basic of pleasures, the most simple. An afternoon of tree root/grass/park sitting. Feeling the breeze, enjoying a late summer afternoon of warmth, sunshine, relaxation. No daydreams about what next, what’s for dinner, where should we wander? Simple relaxation, a mind empty aside from feelings of complete joy, presence, relaxation.

So of course the grand adventures will always fuel my soul, but given these days of go, go, go, perhaps there is much to be said for a less grand, more grounded, purely simple type of day.

Fall 2014 travel bucket list

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It’s creeping on us: the season of cool air, crisp sea breezes, warm blankets, and colorful leaves. We’re not ready for summer to end, but at the very least we can look on the bright side and set the wheels turning down the path of fall adventures.

We’ll split our bucket list into a few varieties: local, not-so-local, and international.  Away we go!

Local (a lot of these adventures will mark the return of the Sunday drivers):

  • New England Aquarium. We’re members, it’s by the water, it’s an excuse to take the T into town. Why not?
  • Legal Seafoods for a cup of chowdah. Make that a bowl.
  • Russell Orchards. To pick apples, take a hayride, see some animals, buy a pumpkin, pet a pig.
  • The beach with the singing sand: there is no more tranquil time of the year at the beach than a crisp, fall day. The water sparkles.
  • Appleton Farms.  Cheeeeeeeeese. And cows.  But really, cheeeeeeeeeese.
  • Hikes, so many hikes.

Not-so-local:

  • Colorado! To visit the familia, catch a Rockies game, eat some Mexican food, drink some good beer, catch up on the good old days with some good old friends.
  • Vermont: leaf peeping, duh. And camping. And friend visiting. And maple syrup eating. Oh, and hello Ben & Jerry, we like you, too.
  • The Berkshires because I (and we) have never been.

International:

  • England to visit these two crazy gals. Drink a pint, listen to the funny talkers, eat the fish and chips. Wine gums too.
  • Spain to relax by the beach, practice the Spanish, eat some tapas, enjoy the downtime. Siesta, we’re look at you!

So there we have it: a fall 2014 travel bucket list.  Sure, it’s ambitious, but it wouldn’t be us if it wasn’t ambitious.

What have we missed, near, far, or very far? What’s on your travel bucket list, near, far, or very far?

The boy.

Beach boy

I look at this little baby, and I see a boy. A boy covered in sand, sunscreen, salt water, joy.

I see a boy curious for the world. Eager to explore. Ready for adventure.

I watch as the boy soaks it in: the sun, the sand, the beach, the day.

He wakes up laughing most mornings. There are a few whimpers, then some rustling in the crib, then laughter. He is ready to take on the day, this boy.

And I find myself wondering, where did it go? The days that seem to last forever yet at the same time move so quickly they all blend into one fleeting moment of time in which my tiny little baby has turned into a boy. It is so quick. One year’s time. So very, very quick.

I feel proud.  Proud of myself, my husband, our family, but mostly proud of this little boy.

For there are things we hope for when we have children, and if I had to voice my greatest hope for my little baby? It would be that he loves the world. That he looks at it as a place of wonder, a place to explore, a wealth of adventure. That he shares his mother’s curiosity for new places, new food, new people.

But meeting each day with laughter?

I didn’t see that one coming, though I sure do love it.

 

The number one reason to travel with kids

We arrived in Mexico weary, travel worn, and uncertain of our rusty Spanish. Mongolian words came to the forefront, Heads down, we made our way through the airport, collected our luggage, and ambled out to find our shuttle. We hardly embodied curious travelers eager to learn about our home for the week.

But James?

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He greeted our new world with a smile. Curiosity radiated from him as he eyed the tropical flowers, inhaled the scents, explored his new environment.

It continued throughout the week.

We relaxed, of course, and found our Spanish-speaking feet once again. But James just radiated curiosity, openness, innocence.

Hotel staff offered a kind snuggle, an extra bit of fruit, a bowl of yogurt, genuine warmth. Walking down the street, James earned smiles, good mornings, waves from one stranger after the next. The further we traveled from the comfort of the hotel, the greater the curiosity grew. The joy. The innocence.

It was everywhere. A tiny little soul, innocent to the world, ready to soak it in piece by piece by piece.

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Often we hear expressions of shock when we announce the next adventure. With a baby?! they say. I can’t think of anything worse!

But the world changes when you have a wee lad in tow. It softens. Opens itself to the tiny innocence and – incredibly – to the big folk traveling along with the small boy.

Children make the world approachable. Their curiosity is contagious, and it offers adults the freedom to indulge a curiosity of their own.

So the number one reason to travel with kids?

Pure innocence.

Innocence for the world, about the world, towards the world.

It is, perhaps, the only contagious thing worth catching while traveling.

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Season in review: Summer 2014 travels

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Let’s pause for a bit of summertime reflection.  Reflection on where the season has taken us, where we’ve fallen short, where we’ve hit the nail on the head.  Shall we?

Where we’ve been:

Where we’ve fallen short:

  • Not enough beach days! We promise to seize the rest of the summer. Beach, beach,  beach.
  • Not enough ice cream! Again, seize the rest of the summer.
  • The garden is a mess. We were over ambitious – lesson learned.
  • Not enough evening patio sitting. Nor grilling. We’ll work on it.
  • Not enough corn. There’s still time.
  • Basil is supposed to grow like a weed.  Ours most definitely did not.  Ditto mint. Next year.
  • Father’s Day Ale fell flat.  Really.  Not a bit of carbonation. We’ll just have to try again…
  • Not enough vacation. Never enough vacation from the damn cubicle.
  • No camping? What? No camping?  That’s terrible. September, we’ve got our eyes on you.

Where we hit the nail on the head:

  • 4th of July. Despite the crummy weather, we made the absolute most of an afternoon back porch sit. Victory.
  • Getting the kid in the water at the beach. He loves it even though it feels like ice blocks on your parts.
  • Cross-country voyage - we rocked it.
  • Mowing the lawn with the boy in the backpack. The squeals of delight are ridiculous.
  • Home-grown tomatoes. So many, and they are all so magnificently delicious.
  • Evening walks. James and I go on them almost every day before Dad gets home. They’re soul soothing. We finish at the playground, and everyone is happy.

So we might not have traveled too far and wide (though one cross-country trip is a solid undertaking!), but we have done our best to embrace the season, live in the moment, savor the time.

What’s left on the list? For us we need to tackle that camping trip, get out for another hike or two, and spend some quality time both at the beach and on a patio.

 

Beach Baby

It happened.  We went from this towel bound tiny little guy…

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To this sunscreen-filled mullet, sand-covered, beach lover of a boy:

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All in one year’s time. Success!

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In an effort to take back the summer, we’ve been packing our (weekend) bags and seizing the remaining beach days. Just a mile’s walk from Gramma and Grampa’s house, Singing Beach is our summertime happy place. And now that the water is not so frigid (last weekend it was a balmy 63!), James happily spends hours running up and down the sand, into and out of the waves. He gladly wades out to the deeper parts with Mom or Dad, and a full dip up to his shoulders is met with joyous giggles. Oddly enough, face plants in the sand and/or a wave are (usually!) met with giggles as well.  He’s a little beach baby, our Jamesey lad.

Some tricks we have learned along the way:

  • Bring the stroller.  It takes some huffing and puffing to get it through the soft sand, but it’s worth it for a long walk along the water’s edge or for squeezing in a beachy nap (waves make the best white noise).
  • Pack snacks (always). We stick with the usual goldfish, cherries, pretzels. Anything will do really, especially when you stop for Captain Dusty’s on the walk home.
  • SUNBLOCK. So much. In the mullet, if your child refuses the sunhat.
  • Pails, shovels, little toy trucks. Anything to move sand and/or water from here to there.
  • An extra towel.  Toddlers do not know the meaning of no sand on the towel.
  • Water, coffee, a beverage of your choice. Playing on the beach makes parents and kids thirsty.
  • Wet swim diapers lead to chafing. Fair warning.
  • Pee runs right through dry swim diapers. Fair warning.
  • And sand? It gets everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

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But those summer days at the beach? They are priceless. Especially if you happen to live near a beach where the sand sings.

[in the effort of full disclosure, there's an amazon affiliate link above. It comes with two very enthusiastic Jaimecito thumbs up]

Month 16

Mom, mom: the biggest, most beautiful development of Month 16. My little boy says Mom, mom. He started while we were in Washington, and now it is just non-stop. Often they are the first words out of his mouth in the morning, and it melts my heart every single time. Mom, mom. My sweet, sweet boy.

In other also big news, he sort of says James! It sound more like Djms, but he points at himself and says it when we say James! The wheels are turning.

But really, Mom, mom. In the sweetest little boy voice in the world. He makes it sound like a sigh of relief.  Mom, mom.

He’s got me, that little dude.

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So yeah, Month 16.  That’s a lot of months!

Height and weight: Can’t remember exactly, but I know height was in the 15th percentile (little dude!), and weight was 40th.  Both of these are great given the winter slump that left him short and skinny…we’ve had a nice, long healthy stretch that means good things in terms of the little dude plumping up nicely.  He has the best little belly these days.

IMG_2701 Adventures: so many! We had the 4th of July, a visit from Grandma Jody, our Washington weekend, a beer festival in Manchester, trips to the beach, voyages on the sailboat (little dude hates the life jacket), so much fun!  We’re tired.

4th

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Teeth: a bunch…maybe getting more? Still four top, four bottom, plus two top molars and two bottom molars. He has diversified his palate this month too given all the teeth.  Lots of crunchy things to bite. And he loves having his teeth brushed. And flossed! He thinks it is so funny (we do too).

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New tricks: climbing up on all the furniture, making car and airplane noises, plucking tomatoes off of the plants, barking at dogs, obsessing over trucks of any sort, doing puzzles, playing at the beach (in the water!).  He also loves mowing the lawn with dad. Like squealing in delight when dad asks James, you want to mow the lawn?

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Signs: eat, milk, more, all done, and now please too!

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Words: this, that, mom, dad, woof

IMG_2809So there you have it, month 16 with the wee dude.  He continues to get more and more fun, and we find ourselves wondering how we ever got so fortunate to call a boy this sweet our own. James, you bring so much joy to the world – may you never lose that spirit, you sweet little thing.

Adventuring close to home

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Adventuring close to home does not always trigger the same exhilaration as a big adventure. At first thought, it feels small, simple, too familiar. And in some ways it is (until you stumble upon a pirate ship, also known as the Mayflower).

It’s also those familiar ways that make it accessible, available, realistic. And doable. Which is a lot when you’re traveling with small kids, because let’s be real, getting out the door is often the biggest obstacle.

So how to do it and how to make the local adventure seem more grand than it is?

  • For starters, set some expectations. And then repeat after me: everyday is a parade if you just lower your standards. Shift your thinking to find the excitement in your neighborhood, your town, your state.
  • Add something new, something exciting, something adventurous into the day. A walk up a hill is just a walk (albeit a pleasant one), but if you finish that walk with a cup of apple cider from the local orchard or an ice cream cone from the local creamery, all of a sudden you have yourself an adventure.
  • Draw attention to the day, make it more than it is, build some anticipation. Start hyping it up on Tuesday. Are you ready for this weekend’s big adventure?! 
  • And then make it one. Your mood guides the day, parents. Find the adventure, the unique, the excitement. Be present. Share the joy. Take photos. Better yet, let the kids take photos.
  • Take the long way. Avoid interstates, linger on two-lane roads. Stop at a farm stand. Find a giant ball of twine. Do something to make an adventure.
  • Return home at dusk. A long day of adventure feels even bigger if you wind down as the sun begins to fade. It’s rebellion for tiny little folk, and sometimes rebellion feels so good.
  • And remember, you’re dealing with kids here: it doesn’t take big endeavors for them to find the joy. By nature they are ripe with joy, ready for adventure, down for what the day has in store.

As for some ideas?

  • Head to the local orchard, creamery, farm, any sort of business that offers tours, pick-your-own, animals to pet, or new treats to taste.
  • Visit a state park. Pack a lunch, take a hike. Look at leaves, throw sticks in the river, find creepy crawlies all around.
  • Stumble upon a splash park: to a kid it might as well be a giant waterpark (to a parent it’s a germ bath, but these are the lowered standards we refer to above). Better yet, don’t tell the kid where you’re headed and just happen to have a swimsuit and towel packed in the bag.
  • Is there public transportation in your area? Take it. It doesn’t matter where or why or how dirty you think the seats/handles/whatever are. Take the bus, ride the train, eat an ice cream cone, turn around and go home: adventure abounds.
  • Find a walking trail: again, we’re not talking grand, far off places right now. Find a path and walk down it. Call it a nature hike. See the shift (you’re looking for a parade in the day-to-day, remember).
  • Go on a Sunday drive.
  • Is there a crummy old amusement park nearby? GO. Just go.
  • Likewise, find a fair, a farmer’s market, a carnival. Let go of any preconceptions. Eat the corndog, try the award winning pie, win a horrid stuffed animal.
  • Is it raining? Play in the rain. Get soaked. Run through puddles. Listen to the joy, the laughter, the innocence.
  • Is it summer? Find a beach. Bring sunblock. Play.
  • Is it autumn? Rake some leaves. Jump in the leaves. Repeat.

The list could go on and on and on, but the main point? Just get out there. We adults make adventure bigger than it need be.  Just go. And remember: Everyday is a parade if you just lower your standards.

Oh, and one final other option?

Find a parade. Really. Some days you might get so lucky to stumble upon an actual parade - you don’t always have to make your own.

What are your favorite ways to find adventure in the day-to-day? How do you satisfy the travel bug in between trips?