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Last Days in Bora Bora

The most exciting thing we did on Thursday or Friday was rent jet skis!  Riding jet skis on the ocean has been on The Husband’s bucket list for a long time, so that was a fun one to check off the list.  I hated being passenger; I was scared that I’d get bucked out, smashed by The Husband, crushed by the jet ski behind us, and then eaten by lemon sharks.  I loved being driver; it brought out my thrill seeker side that has been lying dormant since I’ve had kids.  We were out with a guide and three other couples- they were from Italy, China, and France.  At one point we stopped at a private island, searched around for a coconut, and broke it open to enjoy the water and meat.  Unfortunately we didn’t get any pictures, but jet skiing was a highlight of the trip!  That night we went to Bora Bora Yacht Club with some friends.

The restaurant had AMAZING views- we sat right on the edge of the dock- and crazy fish that kept jumping out of the water and distracting the fisherman in our group.  We got swordfish and mahi mahi with vanilla sauce, and crème brulee for dessert. Some of the best food of the trip!

The rest of our days have been spent reading and relaxing- makes for a great trip but not very exciting blogs!  We leave in a few hours for a long trip back.  Here are a few other things I want to remember:

How fun paddle boarding was!  This was both of ours first time and I thought it was a blast.  The Husband…well, I’ll let him tell you what he thought.

Kayaking right up to our bungalow

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Riding our bikes everywhere.  The resort is fairly spread out, so the bikes really make it easy to get around.

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The cool tables by the pool.

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How my company had the first ever pool party since the hotel opened back up!  Word on the street was they took promotional video to turn it into a more frequent event, though I wasn’t around for that.

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How every single person you pass says in a sing-songy voice “Iaorana”

These cute little needlefish we see all the time while snorkeling

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I took this one back because while Googling to find this picture I found pictures that show them with their mouths open…aye aye aye!

The yummy and extravagant breakfast we got every day- I loved the little hashbrown pancakes and The Husband loved the salmon and capers- but the French toast with chocolate sauce was the best.

Our little creepy crawly friend.  I saw him again Thursday night while The Husband was in the shower, but he hid and then we couldn’t find him again.  The Husband is convinced he only lives in my imagination, but I know what I saw.  He has me creeped out; I won’t walk around when it’s dark and only walk in the middle of the floor, not close to his potential hiding spots.  Last night The Husband was asleep and I was brushing my teeth- so I had to be close to the sink and was very nervous.  The belt from my robe brushed against the top of my feet and I screamed at the very top of my lungs!  The Husband slept through it all.

The amazing over water hammocks and our never ending view- surburbia is going to be hard to adjust back to.Capture

It’s been the trip of a lifetime and we are sad to leave, but are so excited to see our kids again.  Until next time….

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Hiking in Bora Bora

We caught the first shuttle to the main island on Wednesday so we could hike up the mountain!

Hiking was high on the list of things we wanted to do and we had done a little research before coming here.  There was one specific guide, Azdine, who came highly recommended.  Some of the comments we read suggested booking directly through him rather than through the hotel, so I figured out how to use the phone and called him.  He had a heavy accent, but I have quite a bit of experience dealing with non-native English speakers and felt confident that our plans were confirmed to meet at 8:30 on the main dock.

Except when we were there, he was not.  Our friends joined us for the trip, and I was feeling rather foolish.  Also helpless, since our phones don’t work here and even if they did I was unsure how to dial a local number.  Eventually The Husband and I walked to a local café where I looked up his number and then used an employee’s phone to call him while our friends waited at the dock.  I’m still not quite sure what happened, but he ended up picking us up around 9:15.  It seems like I always get ourselves into these adventures…but they make for good stories and they always turn out fine.

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Azdine was a character!  A native of France but descended from Moroccan parents, his skin matches the locals but he is much smaller.  He moved to Tahiti at the age of 18 in pursuit of the ‘island life’, but found life in Papeete, the capital city, was fast-paced and comparable to European life.  So after studying botany and archaeology at university, he settled in Bora Bora.  He found that all of the land was privately owned, but talked to the family and got permission to study it.  He got his machete and cleared paths.  He soon found that his research was not profitable, so he began leading tourists on hikes.  Now he leads hikes during the busy season and researches and explores during the off season.  He has lead people from National Geographic, New York Times, and Disney (while researching Moana) on hikes, but I’m not sure he understands how huge these platforms are.  He acted surprised that we already knew some basic information on him. He told us that he was most excited to give a tour to Barack Obama a few months ago, but the weather prevented them from going out.  On that note, we were hoping to climb higher and explore the caves, but the recent rain made that trek impassable.

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Azdine prefers his Bora Bora name, Tama, which means something like “child who comes from far away”.  He is 5’5” of pure passion and didn’t hesitate to share his politics with us.  He shared that the people of Bora Bora pay the same taxes as those in France, but they do not benefit from any of the services the French do.  He, and those in his party, dreams of independence for Bora Bora, but admits that they are not yet ready.  He says the locals come to him grumbling that they are poor, but that he tells them they need to “move their ass!”  He explained that although the tourist industry here is set up to favor the French over the locals- French people come here for management and upper-tier jobs, while the locals do things like housekeeping and cooking- there are many untapped opportunities for the locals to capitalize on their beautiful island, if only they’d tap into their entrepreneur spirit and work.  He goes to the local school weekly and teaches kids how to better use their natural resources.

Today the main island is settled around the coast line but completely uninhabited beyond that.  I figured this was because the terrain was unforgiving, but Azdine/Tama explained that centuries ago it WAS inhabited.  The predominant religion in Bora Bora is Christian, but their history includes a lot of folklore. At some point in the past, legends started that the hills were taboo and everyone left, afraid of the curses or bad luck they’d get by entering the taboo area.  Azdine/Tama has been working hard to change that.

As he lead us on our journey, he stopped constantly to point out things that I would have otherwise missed.  He showed us pineapple plants and my uneducated mind was blown to learn that pineapples grow out of the ground (I always thought they grew on trees).  He showed us banana flowers and explained how each layer provides new bunches.

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Each of those yellow buds becomes a banana, and under each leaf is a brand new bunch.

He dug up some fresh ginger growing in a dirt pile we were walking on.  He cracked open one of the first passion fruits of the season, not quite ripe yet, and shared the juice with us- it was to die for!  We ate a papaya fresh from the tree.  He shared some honey he had made from his bee hive.  We smelled coffee beans he had harvested.  He shelled a fresh almond that had just fallen off the tree.  He cracked open something that had cotton, or something resembling cotton, in it and explained how he used it to make pillows.

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He talked incessantly about how the island has all these natural resources that were completely untapped.  We don’t have any of the things above at the hotel; everything is imported from New Zealand, the States, or Europe.  His passion is to help people farm the land and sell it to the resorts.  According to him, there are only two farms on the island, both under his direction, and one of them just recently started selling exclusively to one of the big resorts here. He pointed out repeatedly but in an unoffensive way how the tourists live in a bubble while they’re here, unaware of the resources on the main island or the struggles the local people have.

We passed a WWII bunker.  The United States used Bora Bora as a supply base, among other things, during the war.  For that reason, the locals love Americans (Azdine joked that they are the only country in the world that loved Americans 😊 ).  We helped build their streets and put infrastructure in place that is still here today.  This bunker was once completely covered; Azdine discovered it while working on the land.

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We hiked through uncleared areas, pushing vegetation out of the way.  Eventually we got to an area he had cleared that looked like something out of a movie.  With the mountain peaks in the background and native flowers all around it was simply beautiful.

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Azdine explained how when he was clearing the area he came about some black stones that seemed to be in a pattern forming a floor.  He kept clearing and clearing, discovering more and more of this, and eventually found a pile of rocks, surrounded by white (now gray) rocks pointing upwards.  He believes it was an ancient temple.

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We stopped in the area for a quick picnic before Azdine took us to see his little farm, including little piglets that had just been born the day before!

When a beautiful sight was about to come up, Azdine would stop us before it entered our view, instruct us to look down at our feet and not to cheat, and march us towards the sight.  He would then tell us to look up- and although cheesy, it was really a great way to shock your senses with beauty.  He did this as we walked toward a banyan tree.

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I had never seen a banyan tree before and was simply amazed.  Instead of the roots starting at the bottom of the tree, they start at the top and then hang down like giant vines before implanting themselves in the ground and becoming solid branches.  Because of this the trees become absolutely huge- the biggest one in the world covers nearly 5 acres!!  Azdine explained that ancient Polynesians did not bury or burn dead bodies because those things were associated with hell, so they embalmed them and put them in trees like this one.  He has discovered the remains of 7 bodies in the internal part of this tree.  Because of the way the tree has grown around them they are impossible to get out, and I didn’t try to squeeze myself into the tree to get a better look!  He also told us that today they do bury their bodies…in their front yards!  We had seen several tombs while walking/driving around and wondered why there were there.  Apparently, when a baby is born its umbilical cord is buried in the yard as well, and when that person’s dead body is eventually placed there the circle of life is completed.  At one time, they believed they would not be reincarnated if the circle of life was broken. There are no cemeteries on the island, but even if there were its doubtful people would use them over the traditional burials.

From here we walked up a steep uphill to the most beautiful view of all.  The pictures do not even come close to doing it justice.  We simply sat and took in the wonder.

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Azdine asked us where we had eaten and when we told him Bloody Marys, he gagged and said that was the “Tahitian McDonalds”.  He recommended Bora Bora Yacht Club, so we’ll try that later this week.

We went back downhill and after a quick stop at the grocery store for some coconut bread, we returned to our boat shuttle.  We had to hurry to get back to the hotel because we had an all company dinner that night.  After a quick shower we returned to the boat shuttle.

Two big boats of people from my company headed to the resort’s private island.

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We were greeted by delicious smelling leis, wet towels, ukuleles, and cocktails.  After a happy hour and photo shoot on the beach, we moved over to a large picnic area surrounded by tiki torches.

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Our CEO gave a speech and I think everyone reflected on the unpredictable success the firm has had in its short 5.5 years, how very blessed we are to be here, and how lucky we are to all work together.  It gave me all the feels!

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After the speech we ate a FEAST.  I mean, not even joking.  There was a roasted pig leg someone was cutting pork off of, a seemingly unending fish selection, dozens of dessert choices, mini burgers, different kinds of rice, crab legs, the whole 9 yards.  It was crazy.

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After dinner these Polynesian dancers came out and performed an elaborate show for us.  It was so fun, and it gave me the feels in a different way as we watched people put fire in the mouths and on their bodies!

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After we went back The Husband and I got separated and I returned to the room.  I was surprised not to find him here and started getting ready for bed when I saw something crawl out from under the sink.  I did not have my contacts in and couldn’t tell if it was a small crab, a large spider, or something else, but it freaked me out.  I climbed on the furniture, started messaging The Husband to come save me, and tried to not get eaten.  He did eventually come, but wasn’t interested in finding the creature and now I am still scared I might become crab food.

Wednesday was non stop going from 7am-10:30 pm, but was so fun and informative.  Definitely a great day!

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Sharks and Stingrays in Bora Bora

Well, it’s official.  I’m moving to the French Polynesian islands.

This is the first time I’ve traveled further west than California, and I’m loving the time change.  We’re five hours behind Kansas City time, which means we’ve been waking up around 6:00 am every day and going to bed around 10:00 pm.  I’m NOT a morning person; I would have laughed if you told me I’d be waking up at 6am on vacation.  But it’s great and makes the days seem so long!

Monday was nothing exciting.  We read, laid around, and just took it easy all day.  My (very awesome) coworker back home gifted me a massage.  I told the lady I wanted firm pressure and I think she took that as a challenge to see how much this little white girl could handle.  I took it as a challenge to not cry uncle and gritted my teeth as she dug her elbows into my back.  A little painful but felt amazing afterwards!  When she finished, she put my chair up and this is what I saw.

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Tuesday we went swimming with wild sting rays and sharks.  It was my idea to do this, but it freaked me out!  A boat picked us up from the hotel and drove around until they saw some rays.

enhance (15) The Husband was super excited; he was the first one off the boat!  The rays swarmed him immediately, a half dozen came all around him!

enhance (16)  These are WILD ANIMALS with the stingers still on…however, a lot of tours come to this area and feed them every day, so they’re friendly and used to people.  Still, they’re wild and that scared me.  I put on my big girl panties and got in and touched them a few times.  After playing with the rays for awhile I put on snorkel gear and stuck my face under- and realized I was SURROUNDED BY SHARKS!!!  These are black tip sharks, maybe 4-5 feet long, and look like they could eat us for dinner.  Nope.  Not into it.  I tried to just float without moving for awhile so they wouldn’t be interested in me.  After we finished up at that stop we headed to another one, which was much deeper.  It was so beautiful.  We saw schools of fish with thousands of brightly colored little creatures.

enhance (18) It felt so peaceful- under the water you were in your own little world.  You couldn’t hear much and were privy to this entire creation, swimming in seemingly magical choreography.  I again got back on the boat before everyone was finished, and I was so glad I did because then the group saw a LEMON SHARK!  AAAAHHHH!  Nope.

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From Wikipedia, no way I’d get that close.

We went to one more stop after that and I didn’t even get out at this one.  The group saw eels and a barracuda. Despite me being a wuss I did really enjoy the excursion, but not as much as The Husband.  He LOVED it!  He said it was the ‘best thing he’s ever done’ and that it was a spiritual experience for him.

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After the excursion we went back to the hotel and I started Wikipeding these creatures.  I was reminded that Steve Irwin died from a stingray (thankfully I read this afterwards).  They tell us sting rays are docile, but I’m no Steve Irwin!  I also read that lemon sharks- the really scary looking one- rarely bite humans.  But the black tip sharks- the ones that surrounded me on the first stop- account for 16% of human shark bites!  I think I’m all done swimming with wild sharks and sting rays.

For dinner Tuesday night a group of 20 of us headed to the main island to eat at Bloody Marys.  Bloody Marys is a big tourist destination, and there are a few signs outside documenting all the famous people who have eaten there.

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The ambiance is cool and the restaurant has sand floors.  To order they call your table up and show you the raw selections so you can select your dinner to be grilled.

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I chose mahi mahi and The Husband chose marlin.  But the food itself was just so-so. Next up; mountain hiking!

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Church in Bora Bora

Last night was a fun night.  The company sponsored a happy hour/welcome reception in a fancy room over the ocean.  Towards the end I got pulled up and the entire firm sang Happy Birthday!  Embarrassing but so fun!  Afterwards my boss and his wife took us out to dinner.  The resort has two sit down restaurants, a Chinese one and a French one.  I chose the French one.  We ordered bacon-wrapped veal to share and had a good time catching up over good wine.  We were pretty tired by the time dinner was over- we had been up since 4am, hadn’t slept that well on the plane, and even though it was only about 8PM local time, it was 1AM in Kansas City time, so we called it a night.

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We slept with the glass doors wide opened and listened to the waves, the wind, and the rain all night.  Heavenly.  We woke up at 3:30AM but managed to fall back asleep.

When we travel we like to immerse ourselves in the local culture as much as possible. This island really doesn’t have any other industries besides tourism; everything is very catered towards their visitors.  I wanted a taste of what the local life was like.  The people on the resort are so friendly and I wanted to know where they went home to at night. There aren’t really a lot of opportunities for that; we decided the best way to get that would be to attend the local church. I am a religious person, but the decision to attend today was less driven by religion and more driven by a desire to see the natives in their element.  So after breakfast we headed to the main island and burned some time walking around before the service.  As I described yesterday, the motus the resorts are on are nothing but high end luxury.  Everything is fancy.  This is not the case on the main island.  It’s like any other shanty beach town.  As we walked around we heard roosters crowing, saw dogs walking around, and tried our best to avoid the water-filled pot holes and motocycle drivers.  We went to the grocery store where a can of Sprite was $1.65 instead of $10 at the resort.  It made me wonder where that $8+ mark up is going?  Back to Hilton, who owns the hotel?  Are the workers paid well?

The main island has two churches that I’m aware of- a Catholic church and a Protestant one.  We got to the Protestant one a bit early.  I envisioned sitting in the back, but someone led us up to one of the very front rows.  Turns out that was the visitor section, as a handful of other gringos joined and were seated nearby.  They rang a bell every 15 minutes leading up to the service, and again to signal the beginning of the service.

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The church was just one big sanctuary, no fellowship hall or kitchen or classrooms.  Stained glass windows were open along each side, and dusty ceiling fans hung from the wood ceiling. Most people were dressed in head-to-toe white, and the ladies wore hats fancy enough to rival any Kentucky Derby hat!  The men seemed to sit together and the women seemed to sit together, though there were several exceptions to this.  It was a vibrant church, with maybe 250 people taking up most of the pews.  They ranged in age from young babies to elderly couples and everyone in between.

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Check out those hats

As the service started some people wearing formal clothes filed in and greeted some other people with a double cheek kiss.  The service was in French, so we didn’t understand a single word.  But after some talking, someone from behind us started singing, and then everyone joined in!  No music, just a chorus of voices praising our same Lord halfway across the world from our home.  The music was tribal and beautiful.  In surrounded us and all I could do was close my eyes and take it in. Words are inadequate.  I wanted so badly to take a video (which would still be inadequate) but felt it would be disrespectful.  The Husband did manage to discreetly get an audio file, so if you see us be sure we play it for you!

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The rest of the service continued in the same way- talking and singing, singing and talking.  There was a woman who would talk sometimes.  At one point someone, I think he was the head pastor, motioned over to the visitor section and asked in English where we were from in.  Someone said “Australia”.  Continuing in English, the pastor gave a genuine thank you for coming, told us how much the people from Bora Bora love visitors, and gave us a short summary of his message from Matthew.  He explained the phase “Iaorana”, which we’ve heard many times since we’ve been here and assumed it was a greeting like “hello”.  He told us it meant something like “We recognize the spirit within you and hope that you live forever.” He then switched back to French to give the message.

It was a really beautiful service. We were ready to go by the end- you can only listen to a service in an unfamiliar language for so long- but I’m really glad we went.

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Since it was Sunday morning all the shops were closed, but we saw this in the window of a store.  It cracked me up that he had a fidget spinner!  Also thought the reflection of the mountains was very cool.

We came back to the resort after that- thanks to The Husband, who tracked down the boat after I waited in the wrong spot- and spent the rest of the day hanging out poolside with my coworkers.  Pretty amazing day!

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Bora Bora Arrival

Seven years ago I watched as Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky fell in love in Bora Bora.  I was captivated by the overwater huts, the beauty of the island, and the deep blue water.  Even through the TV screen, I could tell it was paradise on Earth.  I put it on my bucket list, not knowing if I would ever get there.

Six years ago, the now-CEO of my company was putting together a business plan for the company he was about to launch.  He was also celebrating his ten year wedding anniversary, and his wife really wanted to go to Bora Bora, but starting a new company and taking fancy vacations didn’t go well together.  He projected some numbers and told her that when the company was worth a certain amount he’d take not just her, but the entire company to Bora Bora!  He figured it might take ten years, if it happened at all.

It happened.  But it didn’t take ten years.  The company took off- it took two.

Two years ago, approximately 30 employees and their spouses came to Bora Bora.  I hadn’t worked there long enough to qualify.

After that trip they set a new goal, again a stretch goal, thinking it would take several years to achieve.  It only took us another 18 months to reach it. There were some different ideas kicked around about where- or even if- we’d do another trip, but luckily for us it was decided to head back to Bora Bora- this time with about 60 employees and spouses!

It’s about 15 hours of travel time from KC to Bora Bora- seemed quick after our road trip to Virginia and trip a few years ago to Ethiopia!  We flew through LAX, took a redeye to Tahiti, and then took a small 60 person plane to Bora Bora.  The Bora Bora airport is very small- we landed, did a Uturn, then taxied back on the runway we had just landed on!  In both Tahiti and Bora Bora we were greeted by leis made with real, very fragrant flowers and Polynesian dancers and musicians.

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Bora Bora airport

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Bora Bora airport

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Bora Bora is one of the 118 French Polynesian islands.  All are small; 67 are inhabited. One of my coworkers ran around the main island last time and it was around 20 miles.  Approximately 10000 people live on the island. I had planned to post a map showing where it is, but it’s so small and so far away from everything else that it doesn’t even show up when I zoom out far enough to see other land masses.  It’s NorthEast of Australia and South of Hawaii.

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One of the Polynesian islands from a plane- not sure which one.

Bora Bora has a main island, sometime referred to as Vaitape as that is the main settlement.  Surrounding the main islands are several small islands- in the US we call them keys, here they are called motus.  The resorts are all on motus. The airport is on the main island, so we had to take a boat ride to get to our resort.  Most scenic boat ride of my life!  I can’t get over how blue the water is here.  The main island has an extinct volcano with two peaks.  Today the clouds danced over them.

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View from our boat ride

We’re staying at the Conrad, which was recently renovated and just reopened earlier this year.  It is LUXURY.  We were again greeted by Polynesian music on our way to breakfast.  Breakfast was amazing, a buffet full of everything from chocolate pies to cold cuts to yogurt parfaits to bacon to steamed veggies.  We were excited to hear our rooms we ready early.

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No filter.  No fancy camera.  No editing.

This hotel room- HOLY COW.  It’s huge, I think 1200 SF.  One entire side of it is glass looking out onto the ocean, and the glass slides out so that it can be completely open.  We have a covered patio with dining and lounge chairs, personal hammocks, and a dock to swim off of.  Wow.  The bed looks out over the ocean, and there’s a TV that rises out of this shelf box thing at the push of a button.  Behind the bed is a bathroom, with a circle tub and an entire shower room with a window.  We pretty much feel like movie stars!

Today also happens to be my birthday- not a bad way to spend a birthday! We live a pretty fast paced life and I’m so excited to just take it easy for a week.  There are plenty of excursion options, but we don’t have a lot of plans while we’re here.  I can’t wait to sleep, and read, and not make other people’s food.  In my normal life I really struggle with stopping to enjoy the moments; it’s just go-go-go all the time.  I don’t often get to stop and just think, to self reflect, to do all the stuff that’s good for the soul.  Outside of the excursions there’s not a lot to distract yourself with; laziness is kind of forced upon you- and that’s a good thing!

Everything here is SUPER EXPENSIVE.  The husband just ordered 6 cans of Sprite and after tip it was $60!  A bowl of soup for lunch is $22.  This island is so far away from everything that it has to cost a lot to get product here- and we don’t really have any other options.  We did bring some snacks, some duty free booze, and tomorrow we plan to go to the main island and stop by the grocery store to hopefully stock up on a few things. But even that is an ordeal; it’s about $15-$20 round trip for the shuttle per person to the main island and then of course you have to carry your finds through town and get it back here.

Random funny story- when we were packing I asked The Husband if he wanted me to pack for him.  He acted annoyed and shut me down.  When we got here he realized he did not pack a SINGLE PAIR OF SHORTS.  NOT ONE.  Except for his trunks.  No pants either. There are no shorts in the gift shop.  Amazon does not deliver here.  Luckily he wore khaki shorts for the flights so he’ll be able to go to nicer restaurants.

The weather is just so-so.  It’s upper 70s and windy with intermittent rain.  At first I was a little bummed about this- I had pictured a hot, beachy vacation- but I quickly decided that I can never leave this hut for the entire week and still have an excellent time.  Here’s my view right now as I write:

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We feel like the luckiest kids in the world; we are so thankful to be here.  I feel like I’m living in a dream. I’m so appreciative of the village who is taking care of our kids and animals this week.  We wouldn’t be able to come on such an amazing trip if we didn’t have people who could take care of our business at home. I feel so blessed to work for a company that treats its employees so well, not just by taking them on crazy exotic trips but by creating an enjoyable and rewarding work environment every day.  I’m so thankful for a husband that supported me though a risky career change, a boss that took a chance on me, a coworker who surprised me with a massage. Sometimes I get bummed about the world- about the flooding and the leadership and the refugees and all the other million bad things I read on my news stream- but there is so much good in the world.  And God’s creation is so beautiful.  And I’m so excited to let go and just enjoy it this week!

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Wiggle’s First Day of Kindergarten + One of Our Biggest Challenges With Adoption

It all started last Thursday.

Last Thursday was my little man’s last day of preschool, the same preschool he’s attended for the last three years of his life.  At drop off he crawled around the play equipment, meowing and pretending to be a kitty.  But when I looked at him I didn’t see a kitty.

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I saw my baby, physically latched to my body, my milk sustaining him.  I saw my toddler, doing his shuffle walk, saying ‘one more!’ after doing something he liked.  I saw my kindergartner, waving me goodbye as he started his next chapter.  I saw my preteen, not allowing me to kiss him in front of his friends.  I saw my early driver, rolling his eyes as I reminded him about safety.  I saw my teenager, taking his first girlfriend on a date.  I saw my college student, leaving the safety of my home to study his interests.  I saw my young man, leaving me to marry the woman who would be his partner for the remainder of his life.

His whole life, or at least the first 30 years of it, flashed across my eyes that day and I couldn’t stop crying.  I’m not usually a crier, but there are two things that never fail to draw a tear:  Those military reunion videos and milestone moments.  And this was a very big milestone moment.  I cried all day long.  I drove to work and cried in my car for 10 minutes.  Luckily I had a busy day to keep me distracted, but in the car between meetings with landlords and property managers, I just couldn’t turn off the water works.

That night we had back to school night.  We met all the teachers and saw all the classrooms, but with three kids we were rushed.  We had a fun family weekend camping at Worlds/Oceans of Fun, a lazy day on Monday, and then today.  The first day of kindergarten.

Our family is unique in that our first born is not our oldest.  Diva was nearly five when she joined our family.  Last April, around Adoption Day, this hit me hard.  I looked at Wiggles- then the same age as Diva was when she came home.  I thought about how well I knew him.  I thought about how I understood why he got upset, why he said the funny things he said, what made him tick.  I thought about Diva joining our family at that same exact age and how I knew nothing about her at that time.  At that time- when I only had a newborn and a 2 year old biologically-a 5 year old seemed so capable, so mature….but when Wiggles hit that age, I still considered him very much my baby.

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When I look at her now, she looks so young…but at the time, I thought she was so old.

Adopting kids older than your biological kids is called ‘out of birth order’ adoption and it is somewhat controversial in the adoption world- we had to fight for our right to be allowed to do this.  At that time, I remember thinking it was so stupid it was controversial.  But I totally understand now.  It’s HARD, and there are countless times when I am wracked with guilt over how I handled a situation then vs. how I would handle it now, now that I have the knowledge and experience and gut instincts that come with having a biological child.   The Husband and I are learning and growing as parents every day, and we for darn sure are better parents now than we were three or five years ago.  But boy, have we made some mistakes along the way.

So, back to our firstborn not being our oldest.  This is not my first time sending a kid to kindergarten.  We did it three years ago with Diva.  Back then, Diva had only joined our family four short months prior and English was still pretty raw.  She was so fearful of everything.  I remember, through a very significant language barrier, trying to explain to my precious barely-five-year old Diva about how she was going to get on a bus and go to school.  And then on the first day, I put her on the bus and went to work.  I had called the school and asked someone to keep a special eye on her, since this was a completely new experience and she was likely to be overwhelmed.  But I didn’t go with her.  I didn’t hold her hand.  I didn’t on purpose neglect her; I just wasn’t that emotionally bonded with her yet and didn’t realize that other parents were likely making this a much bigger deal than I was.  I honestly didn’t realize that other parents would be walking their babies to class. I didn’t look at her as a five-year-old baby; I looked at her as my big five-year-old, ready to take on the world.  Now, having the experience of having a biological child go through the same experience, I cringe with regret.

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Now back to today.  Wiggles snuck into our bed in the middle of the night last night, which happens more often than I care to admit.  Last night he instructed me to pack him a PBJ in his lunch; but we were out of peanut butter.  When I woke him up this morning and informed him that I had to alter his lunch, I instantly became the worst mommy ever.  I ruined his first day.  He wasn’t going to school or even getting out of bed.  Kindergarten was not off to a good start.

Of course, he did get out of bed, and he did go to school, but he continued his peanut butter protest in the only way he knew how:  he refused to cooperate for pictures.

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Luckily Sassypants volunteered for his place, and the pictures will show a very honest depiction of our typical day.

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Today we didn’t just stick him on the bus and hope for the best- of course, we drove him to school and we walked him into his classroom.  He settled right in, eager to put his things in his locker, open his new pencil box, and meet his new friends.  We left, and I cried, but not as much as Thursday (honestly, I felt like ‘he’s your problem now!’….so his bad attitude this morning at least helped me cope through the day).

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Thankfully, he managed through the lack of PB&J and came home a happy kid.  He was in good spirits all night, and excited to tell us all about his day….but ready for bed an hour earlier than usual.  All that learning is hard work!

So, it’s a new chapter for the our family.  We have three kids in elementary school and zero kids in diapers.  It feels surreal.  I never thought we’d get here! It feels sad, but also happy. It feels like a time for reflection; a time to remind myself that no matter how ‘old’ my oldest kids seem, they’re still babies and I shouldn’t expect too much from them. In general I’m a high expectation setter, but my job as a parent, and especially as an adoptive parent, is to set my kids on a path to success by meeting them where they’re at and helping them find an appropriate path for them.  Smiles was 8 when he joined our family; he’s always been a ‘big kid’.  Next year he’ll go to middle school, which seems so old!  But I’ve learned that although it feels so old now, I know it won’t a few years later when Wiggles gets to that point.  I know I’ll still look at 12-year-old Wiggles as my baby- so I’m learning to look at Smiles and Diva that way too- because that’s exactly how they deserve to be looked at.  Every kid, no matter the age, should be someone’s baby, and I think adoptive parents (ie myself) do a disservice when they fail to do this. Adoption ain’t easy, and God is using it to teach me lessons every day.

We survived kindergarten. Wiggles is growing up, but he’s so smart and so ready for this.  He’s my little buddy and I love hanging out with him; he’s no doubt one of my favorite people to have conversations with.  At age five he’s a deeper thinker than most of the adult population.  No doubt he’s got this- now if only I do.

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Virginia Beach Day Eight- Busch Gardens

Today we headed to Busch Gardens.  I had visited this park as a young teenager and was excited to take my children!

It was a full day; we got there a little after 11 and didn’t leave til the park closed at 9 PM.  We had so much fun!  It is a very nice amusement park- beautiful landscaping, great kids areas, awesome coasters, elaborate themes that carry into the smallest details.  We lucked out and went on a day with nice weather and short lines (although the rides did shut down for 30 minutes because of a random power outage). On the way home I asked The Husband what his favorite ride was and he rattled off 3 or 4 roller coasters.  He didn’t mention the one I thought he would and when I brought it up he remembered a few others- he said “Pretty much every ride was my favorite!”

Sassypants is a brave little girl!  There was nothing she was scared to go on.  She’s so cute on rides; she gets the biggest grin and softly giggles between her “weeees’.  After one twisty ride The Husband asked if her tummy felt funny and she replied “My tummy feels FUN!”

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Wiggles is hilarious.  At 42” there are some scary big kid rides he can go on.  He’ll try everything but doesn’t like much!  He squeezes his adult companion very tightly, whimpers through the ride, and is excited when the ride is over- but then he’s ready to try another one a few minutes later!  The bumper cars were his favorite.

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Diva is my only kid that likes roller coasters, so she got a lot of 1:1 time as The Husband and My Sister broke off from the group to take her on the big rides.  She loved them!  She’s cute on rides too; she belly laughs at all the fun parts.  The woman in front of her on one ride turned around afterwards and said “Well that was the best soundtrack I’ve ever had on a ride!”

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Amusement parks are not Smiles’ thing, but he had a good time today.  He’s now too tall to go on most of the baby rides, but he got out of his comfort zone and rode a few twisty-turny rides today.  He really liked this elaborate virtual reality ride, and he won a stuffed animal from a soccer game.  The highlight of his day was when he scored a free basketball for helping out the game attendant.

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My nieces had fun too.  My Big Niece has come a long ways; she used to be scared of most rides but now she rides everything she can!  My Little Niece is only 1.5 so there’s not much she can do, but if it were up to her she’d do a lot more!  She was a trooper today (and really all week); she had very limited nap time on a hot and busy day, but had a great attitude through it all.

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Some of my favorite moments from today- when we were waiting for the train, fun music was on so I started dancing.  Diva gets embarrassed very easily and gave me her stare that lets me know she disapproves.  Then her Aunt started dancing with me, then my Big Niece started dancing with me, and that stare transformed into a smile.  I asked her why it was acceptable when they danced but not me?  She said “You’re my mom, everyone knows moms are embarrassing!”  She’s only 8, Lord have mercy on her teenage years.

At the end of the night we were playing in the splash pad by the entrance when Sassypants and her Big Cousin started fighting, for real fighting with hitting and pushing and yelling.  I went to break it up and right as I was reaching them one of those buckets spilled right on top of me!  I screamed, my sister cracked up, and the girls kept right on fighting.

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We leave tomorrow, so tonight we said good bye to my sister’s family.  There were tears.  One of the best parts of this vacation has been watching our kids interact together.  Sassypants is between my nieces age wise, so she fits right in.  She fights with my Big Niece like they’re sisters, but they can play together for hours.  At one point I lost track of them for a minute in a kids area and finally found them…on a ride.  Wiggles leads his little cousins around and takes this responsibility very seriously.  Diva is the mother hen.  It was rare to see Diva without one of my nieces attached to her.  Smiles is quite a bit older than my nieces, but he is so kind and gentle with them.

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We were so lucky to spend all week with my sister’s family!  I don’t know how my sister does it all; her girls are way off their schedule and we’ve had nothing but long days this week.  She’s been operating on little sleep but is always up for fun and is so patient with her girls.  We sure miss them in Kansas City but are so thankful for this week!

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Tomorrow we’ll hang out at the campground for awhile before starting the trek back!  We’ll definitely miss Virginia but are excited to come home!

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