Extraordinary Carrots

I have always been passionate about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. The theme creeps into my books, into this blog, and into pictures taken spontaneously on my iphone, as I’m struck by some such ordinary, extraordinary thing.

New Yorkers may find this sight ordinary, but this Texan was astonished. It's buried!

New Yorkers may find this sight ordinary, but this Texan was astonished. It’s buried!

Ordinary shoes, but I knew the boys they belong to when they were wee little men. And now, they are big boys with yeti feet, and they were all upstairs, at the same time. Good thing we have extra reinforcements in the game room floor, enough to hold a pool table, or this many boys.

Ordinary shoes, but I knew the boys they belong to when they were wee little men. And now, they are big boys with yeti feet, and they were all upstairs, at the same time. Good thing we have extra reinforcements in the game room floor, enough to hold a pool table, or this many boys.

Something I heard today made me realize that there are two ways to think about the ordinary being extraordinary. One is the whole David and Goliath story, where the ordinary looking person does something extraordinary. Like the story about a little eight-year-old girl who sold lemonade to raise over $100,000 to end child slavery.

Vivienne Harr

Vivienne Harr

And that’s wonderful, fantastic, and amazing. But when I heard the story, it also made me feel like a bit of a loser. I mean, what have I done lately? While these kinds of stories should be celebrated, I need to remind myself to look for the extraordinary in the truly ordinary. Like a carrot seed. I can relate to the lowly, tiny, strangely shaped carrot seed.

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I remind myself that mysteriously held within the trappings of this little seed is something marvelous. This week I had the privilege of working in the Genesis Gardens in East Austin. This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I’ve never picked a carrot, so Mike showed me how to take a flat head screwdriver (no, I didn’t need an expensive tool out of the pretty gardening catalog) and sink it down beside the carrot to loosen it, and then carefully slide it up, out of the ground.

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I cannot tell you how satisfying it felt, to pull up those carrots. To see this long, orange, weirdly shaped vegetable come rising out of the ground. I can’t say it as sweetly or as well as this little girl Ella (who is six, by the way). She explains how she pulls at the “bottom of the top” to reveal a “beautiful orange carrot (well, once you wash it off).” I wholeheartedly agree. And they all came from that seed that looks a little like a sticker burr. Amazing. The extraordinary in the ordinary.

I write all this because I want to point myself and others not just to the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, but to the ordinary people doing ordinary things (like picking carrots) which are actually pretty extraordinary things if we open our eyes and really think about what might be happening. What might seem ordinary, like sitting around a dinner table, can become an extraordinary place where laughter and stories are created and family ties are knotted just a little tighter. A kind word to a stranger in a parking lot who’s dealt with a screaming baby for the last half hour can bring that stranger to tears and brighten her day (I was that stranger, and I still remember that incident, all these years later, and make sure to do the same for other weary mothers).

We may never know the extraordinary affect an ordinary smile or encouraging word may have on someone. We may never see our seeds sprout, no articles or spotlights or recognition. But that doesn’t make it any less important. We can arm ourselves with ordinary flat head screwdrivers, or ordinary words, and unearth treasure.

A sunset is never ordinary, it's always worthy of celebration.

A sunset is never ordinary, it’s always worthy of celebration.

 

Banana Donut Man

It’s funny the things you remember from a vacation. Sure, you remember the big events you went there for. The dives, the snorkeling, sand the perfect texture for drizzle castles and the water so clear you didn’t have to wear a mask to see the fish swimming all around you.

Drizzle castles are my favorite kind to build.

Drizzle castles are our favorite kind to build.

The water was so many colors of blue.

The water was so many colors of blue.

But there are other details you remember, too, little happenings you couldn’t have anticipated that make the trip something more than what’s promised online. Nobody told us about the cutest little hermit crabs in the whole wide world.

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Nobody told us we’d find the biggest hermit crab in the world, either.

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And nobody promised we’d come upon a pod of dolphins not once, but twice. There were dozens of them, their back fins slicing through the water, racing our boat, and beating it. One swam right side up and another upside down, the mirror image, just under the bow. Several of them jumped out of the water entirely.

As we rode at the front of a motorboat, our legs hanging over the sides and hanging on tight as it sailed over waves and slammed back to the water, we saw flying fish, their silver bodies catching the sun. We passed weathered old fisherman in weathered old boats, out for the day with their nets. We were told Honduras used to be second only to Texas in fish exporting, but that’s changed with the higher water temperatures and the bleaching of the coral and disasters like oil spills.

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Nobody told us about the flying fish or the picturesque fisherman, and nobody told us about the Santa Claus of Roatan, otherwise known as the Banana Donut Man. We first saw him on Day One, as we hung out on the beach. He wore a hat woven from palm fronds, and he had a big plastic container tucked under his arm, and he called out, no, he sang out, “Ba-naaaa-na Donuts.” There were others selling sunglasses and bracelets and parasailing rides and cigars, but this man was different. For one thing, he looked just like a very tan Santa, and for another thing, he sang, he bantered, and he had friends. People up and down the beach called out to him. So that night, on our way down the beach to dinner, we stopped him for a few donuts.

He lifted the red lid, and inside were the donuts, sprinkled with sugar, only a few left at the end of the day. He gave us a deal, 4 for $5. How could we refuse? He explained that his wife made them, and he may be back tomorrow. Quite the salesman, he left us anxious, hoping we’d see him again as we bit into the moist, sweet, fried goodness that is a banana donut. Lo and behold we found him the next day, and we got to meet his wife, too.

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She even shared her secret recipe. Use whatever donut batter you usually use (I need to find me a donut batter recipe), but instead of regular milk, use coconut milk. Add a few very ripe, brown and speckled bananas. She uses metal chafing dishes to fry them up. She just lays them across two burners on the stovetop, and fills the bottom with oil, making twelve at a time. Delicious. We got 7 for $10, and snacked on them the rest of our stay.

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They tell you about the crystal clear water and the fine sand and the amazing coral reef, but they can’t tell you about the other stuff because it’s not guaranteed. But these other things, they are what make a vacation worth taking, worth remembering. 

Alayna and I participating in the obligatory jumping at sunset picture.

Alayna and I participating in the obligatory jumping at sunset picture.

Clay is always finding treasures under the sea, like this big sand dollar.

Clay is always finding treasures under the sea, like this big sand dollar.

Will he remember the sunsets, the sand, the dolphins? I think we'll all remember the banana donut man.

Will he remember the sunsets, the drizzle sand castles, the dolphins? I think we’ll all remember the banana donut man.

Getting Off the Bus

You may notice that Stories in the Street looks a little different. What would have taken me weeks to accomplish took my daughter a day. You can now easily access specific stories, posts relating to Rebeka or the adoption or travels, by clicking on that word under the book header. You can get to the beginnings of those stories, or see the posts written during our trip around the world in 2007-2008, by going to the links on the right sidebar.

Looking at these stories from a distance, I can see things I couldn’t see while in the middle of them. There is one thing they all seem to have in common; the idea of “getting off the bus.” You can see this literally in one of the most recent stories. Two months ago, we were getting ready for our trip to Rwanda. While there with our team of thirty, we traveled in a bus each day to various locations. Often we were traveling to visit a sponsored child. When we arrived at our destination, the sponsor family would get off the bus and walk off with a translator to find the house, while the rest stayed behind.

It was such an a amazing experience, getting off that bus filled with cameras and water bottles and people who spoke English, a little bubble of westernization, and visiting our sponsored kids’ homes. To sit on a makeshift bench or the floor, the only light streaming through the windows because there was no electricity.

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No home had more than two rooms, separated by a curtain. No home had a working toilet. They were so remote, I marveled at how our bus found them. For our visit with Javinvier, the bus stopped near some stores. We got off and walked past the buildings, down a hill, over a small stream, past piles of banana trees and a few rotting piles of trash, then back over the stream on a rickety bridge, through the gate of a fence made from plants, and we were there.

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We gathered around a small fire outside, listened to his grandmother speak of her love for her grandson and the small child she’s recently begun to care for. And we hugged her, and our boy Javinvier, who has grown so tall and works so hard at school.

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We took family pictures with mamas and siblings and aunties and uncles, and began to understand the impact sponsorship was having on the entire family. This child was learning to read, to speak English, to do math and science and understand the bigger world outside their dirt walls, and we were now part of their big family in a way. The distant relatives from over yonder, across the ocean.

Ruth has lots of brothers and sisters. She is shy but is getting braver, trying out her English with us.

Ruth has lots of brothers and sisters. She is shy but is getting braver, trying out her English with us.

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Annet was the first girl we ever sponsored. She sang us a song with her older brother, she is a beautiful young woman with a bright future. Rebeka got to meet all our sponsored kids, her wide eyes taking it all in.

David lives with his grandmother. We remembered her strong hugs and big smiles from our last visit.

David lives with his grandmother. We remembered her strong hugs and big smiles from our last visit.

Esdori isn't much for smiling for pictures. He is shy but kind, his smiles are gifts.

Esdori isn’t much for smiling for pictures. He is shy but kind, his smiles are gifts.

It's amazing to meet the people who care for our sponsored kids. This is Violet's auntie.

It’s amazing to meet the people who care for our sponsored kids. This is Violet’s auntie.

We got to hold new babies.

We got to hold new babies.

Sweet Violet has a tender heart, and a persevering spirit. We pray big things for her.

Sweet Violet has a tender heart, and a persevering spirit. We pray big things for her.

These visits were joyful and teary and filled with hugs and holding hands , but it wasn’t always our turn. When the bus stopped for someone else’s home visit, we had two choices. I had two choices. I could lean my head against the window and gaze at the curious crowd gathering outside, feeling shy or tired or overwhelmed. I could take notes in my journal, stay removed. Or I could get off the bus.

Getting off the bus took effort. There were hands to hold, songs to sing. It was hard to communicate sometimes. This was the opportunity to make a fool of myself as I did the hokey pokey or acted out an animal for them to guess, oinking to make them laugh. It was the smiles I was going for. Those beautiful smiles. They were worth getting off the bus.

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And the hands. They want to touch you. Look at you. Examine your arm hair. They want to be the one who gets the coveted spot right next to you. If you sit, they want your lap. They are needy and eager and most are totally uninhibited.

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Getting off the bus, I was soon engulfed in a sea of children, and as I looked around I saw the muzungus had spread out, little islands of white in seas of dark bodies, each a little microcosm of love and affection, if only for a moment.

The kids were both terrified and in love with the puppets one team member brought.

The kids were both terrified and in love with the puppets one team member brought.

It was hard to step off the bus sometimes, but it was good. Getting off the bus, being brave, being present, is so very good.

Blessed by a sticker, the kids love them.

Blessed by a sticker, the kids love them.

Each day I have the chance to “get off the bus.” I can be brave and send out that manuscript or write that new story. I can let go of dignity and comfort and be vulnerable to get to know someone better. I can sit around the virtual fire of a coffee cup and take time to talk. And I can hold a hand. All it takes is the ability to see the opportunity, take a deep breath, get off the bus and step into story.

Summer Camp in Rwanda

Six hundred kids. Thirty Texans. Camp for two days, 9AM-3PM.

Since Rwanda is below the equator, this officially qualified as summer camp, Rwanda style. We arrived armed with Oriental Trading Company ornament kits, barrel swivels to make bracelets, white Christmas lights and extensions cords, Frisbees and soccer balls. We traveled by bus and van to Bugesera, an hour south of the capital, to the school where Rebeka’s sister, Medeatrece, and until recently, Rebeka, attended. All the kids in the community had been told of our arrival, and when we arrived we found them gathered, waiting for us.

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I saw Rebeka’s sister, Medeatrece in her pretty pink dress (Rebeka has a matching one), and wearing a Spiderman pajama top wrapped around her waist. It was the same top Rebeka had brought to America, and it wasn’t until Rebeka had been with us several months that I realized she didn’t think of it as a pajama top, but a jacket. Seeing the familiar face of Medeatrece made me a little less nervous. At least I knew two of the hundreds of kids that had showed up for camp that day.

Rebeka and her sister, Medeatrece

Rebeka and her sister, Medeatrece

They were divided by age into six groups, each with an animal name. I was one of three Texans assigned to the giraffes, a group of kids ranging from ages seven to ten. Our first activity took place in a classroom, making ornaments that said either “peace,” “hope,” or “joy.” The giraffes filed in and settled, three or four to a wooden desk and bench, and stared at us.We had an hour to fill.

A translator helped us tell them the story of baby Jesus, and then we passed out the crafts. The whole time the kids were silent and wide-eyed. These kids do not have much exposure to individually wrapped crafts, self-adhesive backing, or fake jewels. I expected them to rip into their small plastic bags, I expected bits and pieces of their crafts to get scattered all over the floor, and for them to charge ahead without listening to directions. I expected possible tears when their ornament didn’t turn out right. Instead, each child patiently waited until every craft had been passed out. All eighty of them.

They sat and stared at us some more. “First, you open the bag,” we explained, but they were hesitant to open the bags. I went from desk to desk, and each child would solemnly hand me their bag to tear open. “Look, you just do this,” I explained, sticking my finger into the plastic and making a small tear. “See, you can do it.” Still, the majority of the kids wouldn’t. Rebeka, who was in my group, was one of the few who was familiar with crafts, after her initiation in the states. She would prove invaluable as the day went on, helping us communicate with the kids and showing them what to do.

After we finally got all the bags open, it was time to take everything out. The kids took great care, emptying their bags. Next, we showed how to take off the sticky backing. And again, they wanted me to help. They were so timid. I never really figured out if they were worried they were going to mess it up, or were just unsure how to do it. Maybe they kept waiting for the punch line. In a life where the day is taken up with basic tasks of survival, getting water, making food, washing clothes, what is the point of this strange, American craft? They seemed even more puzzled when we brought in the two fake Christmas trees and showed them how to hang their new ornaments on it. I was worried they would be sad, giving up their precious new creation to sit on a tree. What strange people we are! But they seemed non-plussed, eager to please, happy to give what they never really counted as theirs in the first place.

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That’s not to say that we didn’t find a few sticker jewels on kid’s ears as the day wore on. Remember, this was only the first station. The more time we spent with each other, the more comfortable they all became. We moved on to some more active games outside. Rebeka sat in the shade, since running around with a large group of kids is still difficult for her.

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Rebeka's sister Medeatrece is running around for duck, duck, goose!

Rebeka’s sister Medeatrece is running around for duck, duck, goose!

A small group of kids gathered around Rebeka when she sat out, and I admired how easily she seemed to assume the role of interpreter and answer all sorts of questions about these people from Texas. Sometimes they would point to us, giggle, then go back to talking.

At lunchtime everyone raced to the water cistern to wash their hands, then raced to the food line. Two days later, I was asking one of the translators what activity she thought the kids liked best. Was it football? Or maybe making those cool bracelets which soon became a sort of currency with the kids, some stretching to necklace length as trades were made. Or did they like volleyball best? Maybe duck, duck, goose?  “No,” said the translator. “I think they’re favorite activity was lunch.”

She wasn’t joking. For all the planning we did (and don’t get me wrong, the kids had a lot of fun), what they really needed was to have a basic need met. Food. Rice. Potatoes. A banana. And meat, a real treat for these kids. And to top it off, a Fanta.

There was another basic need we met in those two days of camp. Touch.

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I never had fewer than four hands on me. They entangled their fingers with ours. Sometime the littlest ones scored a ride in our arms. If they could reach our hair, it was braided or knotted.

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They soaked up physical touch like dry sponges, saturating themselves with affection. At the end of the day, our bus rolled away and the kids started home, some walking three or four miles down dirt red roads. A few kids wore remnants of the ornament crafts on their faces, stickers on cheeks and foreheads. A few had bits of a broken Frisbee tucked into their pockets. I hope they all went home with their bellies swollen and their hearts full. Our Texas bodies may have been weary, but I know our hearts were very, very full.

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A Pink Dog and Snowflakes, Deep in the Heart of Rwanda

Our family spent Thanksgiving week in Rwanda. I gathered images in my journal, and now I spill them here. Because there are so many stories worth telling in this world, and I feel like we had our tank filled to overflowing. Twenty-four hours of travel, across the wide ocean, we stepped off the plane Saturday night, bleary and excited, eager to see Rebeka for the first time. She would spend the night with us until Thursday, five nights of sleepovers, sharing a bed with Alayna at the guest house, sharing meals with our team of thirty Texans. This trip wasn’t just about Rebeka, but she’s where it all started, at the airport, hugging her familiar neck.

Seeing Rebeka in the Kigali airport.

Seeing Rebeka in the Kigali airport.

It was our third time to Rwanda. We would visit all of our sponsored kids over the week, seeing some for the third time, tracing their growth through six years of pictures, delighting in small changes and slowly growing, long-distance friendships. That first night we fell into bed, and woke to Rwanda. Misty morning, bird tapping on the window, soldiers running past outside, chanting. We stumbled into the day, wide-eyed. We ate breakfast as we gazed at the capital city of Kigali, spreading down the hillside in front of us, cupped by some of the “thousand hills” Rwanda is so famous for.

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View from the back porch of the guest house.

Breakfast was warm bread and sliced bananas. We drank water from a bottle, careful not to ever drink from the tap. Then the team loaded up and took a bus an hour south down bumpy red roads to Bugesera for Sunday morning church service. As the world slipped past I saw and remembered. People walking, everywhere, hundreds of them. Crazy motorcycles, perilous traffic, and then into the country. Dusty, smiling children and lush, green hillsides.

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Mud homes with metal doors, or curtains for doors, or sometimes no door at all. Cassava drying on a blanket outside, chicken pecking at it. Small children carrying big yellow cans, fetching water. Children chasing our bus, calling “muzungu” (white person!) and waving hard.

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Women washed clothes in plastic tubs and hung laundry on bushes.

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Cows with long, dangerous horns, walked gentle down the road. A baby crawled two feet from our passing wheels, women walked with huge bundles on their heads, men pushed bikes up hills, loaded high with bananas or water cans. Clothes tied on sticks were scattered in the fields to scare birds from the maize.

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Rebeka’s sister Esperanza was at the church service in Bugesera, though we didn’t know it until after. She came, shy and curious, once it was all over (the two hours of dancing and singing and murmured prayers in a foreign tongue all around us, hands held high, two sermons, delivered passionate, translated for us).  Esperanza hugged us, smiling, and sat quietly, sharing our lunch, trying popcorn for the first time. Rebeka translated for her big sister, proud and comfortable.

Then we were in a van, bouncing down a red dirt road. We stopped to pick up two women dressed in bright church clothes and gave them a lift, three or four miles down the road. From the backseat, Rebeka said, “My dad!” pointing at a thin man walking down the road, wearing a blue shirt. We stopped and picked him up, too, and he squeezed into the front seat. He was all big smiles and shaking hands and then we were off again. Rebeka’s dad chatted with the driver, Clay told me later he had already been to the lake near their house to catch fish, walked six miles to the road to catch a ride to the capital, took an hour there and back to sell his fish, and was walking home again. It wasn’t one o’clock yet. Had he fished in the dark?

When we arrived I recognized her house from the pictures, beautiful lake shining on the right, house up a small hill on the left, and neighbor children already gathering to witness the spectacle of muzungus arriving in their van. The first thing I saw when we stepped into the house was the pink dog.

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When Rebeka first arrived in America a sweet little neighbor girl started bringing presents. Little bags with treats. The small, stuffed pink dog with giant eyes arrived on day two, and Rebeka kept it faithfully clipped to her shorts for weeks.

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Now here it was, hanging from her ceiling, along with paper snowflakes and a few other assorted toys.

As we sat on either side of a small coffee table, and the translator helped us talk to each other, my eyes kept straying to the ceiling. That dog, those snowflakes, they told so much about this family. I have never been in a sponsored kid’s home that was decorated this way. There may be a calendar picture tacked to the wall, maybe a faded picture of the sponsor family, sent across the ocean, but this was special. This spoke of a mother who gave freedom to her children to express themselves. It was a reach beyond fetching water, washing clothes, cooking meals, and all the basic survival tasks that occupy their days. It spoke of creativity and imagination and the desire to make things pretty no matter what the raw materials. I hope if I had a small house made of mud in Rwanda, there would be snowflakes hanging from the ceiling.

We would spend seven full days in Rwanda, seven days worth of stories we encountered on those red, dirt streets, but I wanted to start with this one. This hastily sketched picture of what it looks like, what it feels like, to be in this country. And what it was like that first day, meeting Rebeka’s family and seeing that little pink dog.

Rebeka's family, three younger sisters, a brother, and mom and dad. Her older sisters aren't pictured here.

Rebeka’s family, three younger sisters, a brother, and mom and dad. Her older sisters aren’t pictured here.

The Bear/Moose

The last time I wrote a post, we were saying goodbye to Rebeka. Since then we’ve received a few pictures of her back home. My favorite so far is this one.

We feed on these photos like parasites, noticing every details. Her hair is braided! She's wearing that Dora dress she loved! She's wearing the socks Kate gave her!

We feed on these photos, noticing every detail. Her hair is braided! She’s wearing that Dora dress she loved! She’s wearing the socks Kate gave her!

Clay asked us when we thought a day would go by that we wouldn’t think about Rebeka. It certainly hasn’t happened yet, things remind us of her all the time. There are pictures of her around the house, an unfinished craft she was doing with a friend, some picture books I read to her the last night, still unshelved . . . there are pieces of her everywhere.

From all reports, she is happy with her family and will soon be attending a boarding school a few hours from her home. She will miss her family, but they can visit once a month, and she will be getting the benefits of attending one of the best schools in the country. She will also be able to keep up her English, an excellent skill that can take her far. We are hoping to visit her and her family in November, but until then photos and videos sent back from friends on the ground or mission teams are the only way we stay posted. The rest, all those details and stories I wonder about, are left up to my imagination.

Kind of like the bear/moose Clay and I encountered yesterday. We’re in Aspen, celebrating our 20th anniversary a little belatedly, and yesterday we did a fun hike up to Crater Lake and then down and around a Scenic Loop Trail.

At the start of the trail.

At the start of the trail.

At the last part of the trail, we walked past this big bush and heard the HEAVY BREATHING and SNORTING of some sort of BEAST. I’m serious, it scared the pee out of me. I turned around and grabbed Clay’s shirt, and then, in classic fear mode, I side-stepped him and got away from the heavy breathing.

They told us on the bus they’d seen bear and moose in the area. We’d been hopefully watching for them, but had pretty much decided we wouldn’t see one, when we heard the breathing. There was nobody around. Clay tried to peer into the bush while I perched on a tall rock a safe distance away, camera at the ready. Clay tossed a rock into the middle of the bush. Every once in a while we’d hear the breathing again. SOMETHING was in there, something big, I am certain. It sounded wuffly to me, surely sign of a bear. Clay wasn’t so sure. Eventually I hiked back past the breathing to join Clay and we walked slowly away, glancing over our shoulders.

A little ways on, there was a rocky place leading to a dry creek bed. Clay decided to walk back down, pushing through some tangled branches, to see if he could see something from the other side of the large bush. I took the camera and found another rock to perch on. He returned a little later, saying he’d found where the animal had pushed into the thick bush, there was a sort of tunnel he could have gone into, but, kudos to Clay for self-restraint, he thought there was a possibility that he could die if it was an angry moose or bear and he was blocking the animal’s only way out, so he retreated without actually seeing the animal.

That said, Clay thinks it was just a mule deer. I am sticking to my bear/moose story, and I’m almost glad the BEAST never came out of hiding, because I can go on believing our encounter with a bear/moose really happened. There is something to be said for not seeing every piece of a puzzle, for leaving some bits of it up to imagination. I think this holds true whether it’s Rebeka, a creature in the forest, or even my stories. I know readers bring all of their experience and imagination to the words on the page, and the story becomes much bigger than it ever could have been on its own. 

Happy trails to you, and may a few of your questions go unanswered, may some of your stories go unfinished, and may your imaginations fill in the blanks.

The Aspen trees here are beautiful, their leaves all shimmery when the wind blows, and the white trunks like slender white columns, lining our path.

The Aspen trees here are beautiful, their leaves all shimmery when the wind blows, and the white trunks like slender white columns, lining our path.

Tall Tales

For our last day we decided to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific. We saw all sorts of crazy stuff: eels, a shark with a saw for a nose, jellyfish, and giant lobsters. Rebeka has now joined the ranks of those who have touched the back of a stingray, watched sharks being fed, and laughed at sea otters playing and penguins diving. She even had a couple Lorikeets perch on her as she offered them nectar.

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We ask her how she’ll ever explain sharks or highways or rollers coasters to her sisters. She just shrugs. When running water and electricity are novel, the rest is just crazy. I imagine her, spinning these tall American tales around the fire back home. And the funny thing is, some of the things we’ve seen when we go to Rwanda seem like tall tales back here. Fifty kids in a first grade classroom and they’re all rapt with attention, eager to learn. Bundles of sticks larger than the woman carrying them, balanced on her head. A six-year-old girl with her infant sibling strapped to her back, tasked with caring for him while her parents work.

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Oh I wish I could be there, to see the looks on their faces, when she tells them about riding around in a plastic clam to see the Little Mermaid.

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Or how she took pictures with superheroes.

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Or gazed at water that goes on as far as the eye can see.

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This great big world is full of true tall tales, no matter what side of the ocean you live on. And I guess that makes it . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . .  a small world after all.

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It’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all, it’s a small, small world . . .

 

Costume Changes

The moment we wheeled Rebeka through the Disney gates, the Disney staff called her “princess.” “Have a great day, princess,” or “step this way princess.” Our second day at Disney started out with a trip to the “Royal Faire” where Rebeka was decked out in a super fluffy, glittery Cinderella dress so she could look the part. After changing, she settled onto the floor with dozens of others princesses to watch a Tangled play.

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We hunted down almost all the Disney princesses throughout the course of the day to get their signatures and some pictures. Of course, Cinderella was a favorite.

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We rode the carousel again. The boys have been real troopers, riding the Little Mermaid ride twice and gamely enduring the more tame rides, though they’ve had a chance to sneak off for the thrill rides as well. By the end of the day, all of us were dusted with Rebeka’s princess glitter. Her dress left a trail of sparkles wherever she went. She looked like a beautiful night sky, her dark skin and all that glitter like twinkly stars. But, when it was all said and done, Rebeka is still our silly, goofy Rebeka.

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In addition to seeing the ocean and going to Disneyland, we had another item to scratch off Rebeka’s bucket list: snow. We drove over two hours out of L.A. to Big Bear Lake, and headed straight to a tubing hill we’d read about. It was super warm, mid-60’s, but there was still snow on the ground and we couldn’t wait for her to experience this new thrill. Unfortunately, after just one slide down the hill, the staff apologetically told us that anyone wearing a cast who has had surgery can’t tube. I guess we should have known that. It would have been really bad if Rebeka went flying off her tube and hurt herself. Rebeka had fun on her inaugural slide, but she honestly didn’t seem too disappointed, and Clay was a little relieved. He said the hill was dicey, and he could easily see how an accident could happen.

Undaunted, we traveled a little further down the road and hung out at the base of a ski area.

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We did another costume change, but this time instead of a princess dress she was donning waterproof riding pants (thank you Daehlers!), and a plastic bag for her cast. Eventually she also put on mittens, a hat, and a heavy coat she brought from Bugesera. She arrived in Austin last August with three coats and a couple of heavy sweatshirts, and she was finally getting to use some of them! She was eager to try a snow angel:

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And of course we had to make a snowman.

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Our family usually goes skiing/boarding at Spring Break, so being around snow seemed right. As we watched people coasting down the hill, we all got a little itchy, wishing we could take just one run down. Alas, the day was getting late and it wasn’t worth the hassle and cost for just a couple of runs. So, we hopped back in the car and headed back to L.A. This has been a weird trip in a lot of ways. It’s strange not having Alayna with us (she’s on her junior trip in Europe). Our car trip has a totally different dynamic. Little “super-dee-duper-dee-doo’s” resonate from the backseat. The wheelchair rattles and clangs around in the back. But the mountains are beautiful, and the family picture is still very sweet.

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We look forward to trading stories with Alayna once we’re all back home again. Thinking of her reminds me of the many costume changes she made as she decided which clothes she would take and how they would all fit in the one carry-on-size suitcase she could bring. She must have tried on dozens of outfits and combinations to find just the right ones.

We have just one more day in California, and I think we’re done with “costume changes.” No Cinderella dress or snow pants required for the aquarium or the bird sanctuary. Then maybe we’ll go in search of the Hollywood sign, or Sunset Blvd., or revisit the beach . . . so many choices, so little time.

Day Two: Super-dee-duper-tee

Rebeka has a new refrain. She wakes up saying, “super-dee-duper-tee” and she goes to sleep saying it just one more time, “super-dee-duper-tee.” We think she’s excited.

Our first day at Disney was a blast. We decided to splurge and get a VIP guide who can get us to the end of every fast pass line at any time, cutting out wait times waaaay down. This way we can do both parks in two days, and see everything we want to see. We found out just minutes after meeting our guide that she has been to Rwanda. TWICE! It was a match made in heaven, we love Courtney.

Rebeka’s desire? A princess dress. The only souvenir she asked for? A bubble “gun” that blows bubbles when you pull the trigger. Her favorite ride? The carousel. She was game to try almost every ride, even Space Mountain, but she’s not a fan of super-dee-duper fast, or scary. She loved the parade,and our “VIP” status meant we got a primo viewing spot. The princesses took special note of her, it seemed, blowing her kisses and waving. She was all smiles.Here are some of our fave pictures.

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This was by far her favorite, we rode it twice.

This was by far her favorite, we rode it twice.

This was a super tame ride, but it started by riding our little boat through the jaws of a whale's open mouth-Rebeka DID NOT want to go in that mouth!

This was a super tame ride, but it started by riding our little boat through the jaws of a whale’s open mouth-Rebeka DID NOT want to go in that mouth!

Once we were in the whale's mouth, she was still a little scared.

Once we were in the whale’s mouth, she was still a little scared.

This was our first princess signature. Merida from Brave took lots of time making Rebeka feel special.

This was our first princess signature. Merida from Brave took lots of time making Rebeka feel special.

The parade was awesome!

The parade was awesome!

 

 

California-Day One

I thought it would be fun to share some pictures of our Spring Break trip to California with Rebeka. Day one was mostly travel, with a very early morning wake-up call and lots of time on the plane. When Rebeka traveled to America, her first time on a plane, she never got a window seat. We made sure that was remedied.

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She was so excited, making silly faces when we took off and she felt it in her belly.

She was so excited, making silly faces when we took off and she felt it in her belly.

We went straight to Hunington Beach after landing in L.A. where we saw amazing kites, a very cool pelican, a couple of dolphins, and some “swell” surfers.

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We got right up close to this guy, and watched as he crouched and then dove for a fish.

We got right up close to this guy, and watched as he crouched and then dove for a fish.

Isn't he gorgeous?

Isn’t he gorgeous?

This is Rebeka's first time to stand at a seashore and see the ocean. When we asked her what she thought, she said, "It's good." We're working on more descriptive adjectives.

This is Rebeka’s first time to be at the seashore and see the ocean. When we asked her what she thought, she said, “It’s good.” We’re working on more descriptive adjectives.

We walked on a long pier out to a cute little diner for a 2:30PM lunch, then went to the beach.

Another "foot in the street" for those familiar with our first blog.

Another “foot in the street” for those familiar with our first blog. It’s no longer innocent of honest to goodness beach sand.

Clay insisted that we would ALL put our toes in the water. Rebeka said, very seriously, that she would NOT put her toes in the water. Clay had other plans for her. And, of course, after screaming came giggling.

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She loved it. She also loved playing in the sand, burying Nate’s feet.

Did we mention she's flexible?

Did we mention she’s flexible?

I loved watching them all. It was fun to watch Benji run like a puppy. Shirt-less is his natural state, he loves the water and he isn’t afraid of a little cold.

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Ultimately he ended up face down in the ocean, but he didn’t care. Nothing a little sunshine and a towel wouldn’t fix. Day One, ocean, check. Today we’ll do our first Disney Day, so stay tuned for more pictures. I think what we’re all most excited about is seeing Rebeka’s face when we walk through those gates. She told us she thought when we landed in L.A., we would walk out into Disney. The L.A. airport was a big disappointment! No matter how we try and explain what Disney is really like, or show her pictures, they just can’t live up to the real deal. I don’t know . . . I think the ocean runs a close second to Cinderella.

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