10 July 2014

Life is a Highway

Moving on! Goodbye, first house! 

We really do like moving. Isaac seems to as well, or at least is picking up on our enjoyment of moving. Ok, so we bickered in front of the movers on Day Three, but whatever. 

Our Day One and Two (all female) packers were AMAZING! You know they'll do better job with the dishes!! No offense, male movers, but this was confirmed when you dropped a box down the stairs before 8:30am the next day. The Day Three moving/loading crew was absolutely ridiculous. They showed up earlier than the packers had, so Isaac and I were at the breakfast table. The first thing they removed from the house were the breakfast table chairs. I got up to get something for Isaac and by the time I got back to the table, my chair was gone too! At least they didn't pack Isaac. 
The same thing happened at lunch---they were on a lunch break, so Chris and I sat in the only chairs left in the house out on the back porch to eat random fridge clean out leftovers. From nowhere a mover came and removed all the chairs we weren't currently touching. Then those chairs sat in the driveway for hours. Moving the chairs we wanted was the only thing they did quickly. The driver told us later two of the four-guy crew were barely working at all, and that's why they were done hours after they could have been. Eye roll. Of course it rained all afternoon---it's Florida in the summer! Yay, moving. 

"Miss, are you going to the store?" one of the guys asked me in the morning chaos of trying to get in the car and out of their way, breakfast interrupted, box falling downstairs. I hadn't eaten anything, Isaac was still in jammies. I frowned. "Do you need something?" "I need ice for the cooler," he said. You are so my last priority right now is what I thought. I didn't say that, just frowned distractedly and went back to trying to get Isaac dressed in the sweltering garage because my car was blocked in by the moving truck. Later one of the guys told Chris he needed to eat our M&Ms on the counter because he had low blood sugar. At 9am. And finally, another mover told me he needed to use my iphone charger when I was done. Not the best movers he's ever worked with, the driver confirmed after they left. But not the worst. HELP US ALL. 
I thought Isaac might be freaked out by the packing and moving, but...he wasn't. He wasn't delighted when his garbage truck of cars was packed, but the rest of the time he did really well. He even helped mop the entryway! 
Ice cream for dinner?! YEAH I like moving! 
Many thanks to Laura for letting Isaac come play on loading day and Julie for letting us spend our last night in your guest room! 
After that, we hit the road!! 
"Drive all day?" Isaac asked. "Chicken place?" Fast food makes everything better (for a toddler). 

I put on some Ace of Base for the drive and Isaac said, "No Mama's song. I want Mac's song." 

One quick download later we were flying along 65 somewhere in Alabama jamming to the Rascal Flat's "Life is a Highway." Isaac calls it "Mac's song" because it plays in Cars when Lightning McQueen and Mac are road tripping. This is SO my kid. 

Crepe myrtles bloomed enthusiastically through Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. At highway rest stops we were able to sit comfortably outside in the middle of the day under shaded pavillions with a light, cool breeze. Is this what summer is like outside of flat-hot USA? I like the restrained glamour, the dusty magenta, of crepe myrtles. Landscaped, manicured and wild, they waved roadside the whole ride. 

"Whoa! It's a pretty sunset!" Isaac said as we zipped through a tunnel and over a bridge, arriving in Norfolk at a rather charming time of day. And we're here! We pick up our keys (and see our house for the first time----!!!) today! 

05 July 2014

Sparkly Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day! I used to love going to a pool party or church picnic for the 4th and fireworks after dark. In recent years, though, we've flopped on the festivities---Isaac hated the pops and bangs, it rained, and he was in bed before dark anyway. This year, though, my parents were in town! We all had BBQ and hot dogs with our friends the Edwards. Isaac's summer crush, Evie, convinced him to hop in the pool, chase her around, share ice cream cake, etc etc. He actually got up from my side and took his ice cream cake over to sit four feet away next to her. So it begins! He still wasn't a fan of the firecracker pops and bangs, but the sparklers were pretty entertaining. Our house will be full of boxes and movers in 48 hours, but we are SO much readier to move thanks to my folks. They washed windows, scrubbed oil stains, bleached moldy strollers, tossed junk from the fridge and pantry---all the projects I've been dreading!! THANKS, Mom and Dad! I don't know what we would have done without you! Probably moved a lot of moldy stuff! Have a safe drive back to Texas! 

01 July 2014

Pensacola Beach

I had this fantasy of what living here again would be like, and it involved a lot of citrus fruits and THE BEACH. Our last week in Florida was exactly that: tons of Florida orange juice and a mini beach stay-cation. Isaac finally loves playing in the waves and thinks he's a dolphin. My parents came to visit and gave us a night away at the beach for our anniversary, so we got to watch the sun set over Santa Rosa Sound from lounge chairs at Red Fish Blue Fish before a moonlit walk on the beach! Our night away may or may not have been delayed by Chris' iphone getting left on top of the car (he found it on the side of the highway a couple hours later thanks to his 'find it' app)...but we had fun anyway! We watched from our balcony dolphins and stingrays jumping in the Gulf of Mexico. The water was clear, calm and cool. My parents met us with a picnic and Isaac for a relaxed beach day. It was the fulfillment of everything I'd hoped this tour could be! 

My folks brought their bikes, so we looped Spencer Field a couple times and also embarked on a sunset beach ride along the beach one night after the heat of the day faded away. I love after-dinner walks/bike rides. Every time we're about to move we have the same discussion: where will our evening walk be in our new duty station? In Pensacola we stuck to Spanish Trail, in Jacksonville we had a neighborhood loop, in Japan we strolled along the river, and in Pace we walk along the neighborhood cul-de-sacs or around Spencer Field. And soon we'll be mapping out our Norlfolk route! 

Our final day at the beach began with glassy waters. By the time the surf kicked up into waves hours later, we were getting sun-crispy and ready to go. So long, Pensacola Beach! 2013 may have been a wash, but 2014 has been everything we hoped for so far! 

28 June 2014

Cruising through Santa Cruz

In downtown Santa Cruz
We wandered around Santa Cruz's Plaza 26 de Septiembre, the cathedral, some shops, then popped into a little cafe. 

"Afternoon tea is big here," Carola explained. I love teatime! 

Abi and Carola conferred, then ordered a pitcher of mocochinchi---an iced Bolivian drink made by boiling dried peaches with sugar, cinnamon and cloves, served over peaches. Delish! Since we'd tried cunapes (cheese and corn meal biscuits) at breakfast, they ordered tamal a la olla (Bolivian tamales), empanadas and sonso (I think that was yuca root, cheese and butter---it was everyone's favorite). 
I asked about the next pair of kiddos heading north for surgeries. Carola, the Bolivian country manager for the Children's Heart Project, took a deep breath. She'd recently received a call from the mom of the girl next up next for surgery asking her to take her daughter off the list. The nine month old had already been accepted by a hospital on the East Coast of the USA and was just waiting for the paperwork's completion. But she passed away before she could make it to the hospital that would have saved her life. 

"It's the bad part of my job," Carola looked down at her juice. She's hoping another baby she has in mind can get cleared to take the girl's place, but she's not sure. 

The other kid accepted for surgery---a teenage boy---doesn't have a guardian who can travel with him, and it's slowing down his visa. His mom abandoned their family when he was five. The boy was living on the streets and drinking heavily when he was taken to live in an orphanage, although his dad is still alive and around somewhere. 
In downtown Santa Cruz, sort of dancing to indigenous-style music (her mom is just out of the photo with a baby)
Part of Carola's job is to attend clinics where North American cardiologists come to Bolivia to see patients. She translates, calls people to remind them to come, etc. She routinely calls people who say they won't be coming back---the baby died. "I'm just sitting there, unable to do anything for them from the other side of the phone, and I don't know what to say," Carola said. "I said, 'I'll pray for you,' but I don't know if that will comfort her. It's the bad part of my job," she repeated. 

The bad part is offset by joyful reunions like Santi's, of course, and visits to other patients who have returned home completely recovered from their heart conditions. The day I left she was going to visit the girl Santi and his mom had originally traveled with to Canada and stayed with at their host family's house, a precious, big-eyed, healthy toddler with pig tails. 
Plaza 26 de Septiembre
But Carola is also the one who has to translate the bad news at clinic sessions. Earlier this year, a family brought in their daughter, who, although four years old, had a blueish cast to her skin and had to sit in a stroller because she was too weak to learn to walk. Carola had to translate as the doctor explained the bitter reality of their situation: their daughter wasn't nearly strong enough to survive the long flights to North America. Even if she miraculously got there, surgery could treat some of her symptoms, but there was really nothing anyone could do for her. Her heart defect was too profound, too complicated, and she was too weak. 

"The best thing I can tell you is to enjoy your daughter for the time she has left," the doctor had told them. 

"And I'm focusing on translating what he says, but there are tears running down my cheeks," Carola said. "I think it's good the doctor isn't so emotional, but I think it's ok that I am." 
This spring, CHP celebrated the program's 1,000th surgery over nearly two decades. It's now working with clinics in Uganda, Mongolia, Honduras and Bolivia to keep saving tiny lives.

When I told Isaac's cardiologist I was transporting Santi back to Bolivia he told me he had once planned to help at a Mongolian clinic. An ill-timed hurricane damaged his home and he had to cancel his trip, but his wife, a social worker, was still able to go help out for three weeks. I thought that was cool.
A little outside downtown
But back to Bolivia, both Carola and Abi live in La Paz. They say it's very different from Santa Cruz: cold vs. hot, political and business-oriented vs. industrial, less vibrantly colorful, more educated, more reserved. Both ladies were impressively multilingual, smart and pretty. We were all the same age. We talked about jobs, travel, boys. It was awesome. After teatime, we wandered back to the hotel to collect Abi's bags and take her to the airport. I left early the next morning.
Moto-taxi: we did not take one of these to the airport
"Ok, I have a tourist question for you," I asked Abi in the taxi. She grinned. It was actually a bunch of questions.

Q: The people we saw near the plaza who were dressed traditionally---is it a costume they wear to ask for money? Or do some people dress like that always?
A: Usually, people outside the cities dress more traditionally. Within the city, people dressed traditionally are more likely to be new immigrants.

Q: And do Bolivians see Bolivians of indigenous heritage as all one and the same Bolivian, or is it more European-descent Bolivians and indigenous Bolivians as separate groups? (this involved some consideration and discussion)
A: Maybe sort of separate, because usually it falls into urban vs. rural populations. But even in the cities traditional heritage is becoming more and more popular.

Q: So at school, university, work, where ever, would you sometimes find yourself sitting next to someone dressed traditionally?
A: Well, schools have uniforms, so no. In the cities, maybe people like to wear traditional clothes at home, to feel comfortable.

I really enjoyed meeting these ladies, and have lots of respect for the awesome, sometimes difficult, work they do!
Carola and Abi! And our teatime spread. 
No idea what this place is, but I love the barbed wire/rainbow combo

All About Santi

At Santi's home! 
Pneumonia landed Santi in the hospital at just six weeks old. That's when his heart defect was detected---his heart wasn't pumping the oxygenated blood from his lungs to his body, leaving him tired and weak. He fought off the pneumonia, but was back in the hospital soon afterwards for three months, this time battling an infection.

"The first time I saw him, I didn't know if he would be a good candidate for surgery," Carola, the Bolivian country manager for the Children's Heart Project (CHP) told me candidly. "He was so small, and with the IVs and oxygen tubes everywhere, we weren't sure he was going to make it. But he recovered from that, made it to Canada for surgery, and now look at him---look what God has done!"
Santi in his pastor's arms with another church member
Taxi home
Santi and his mom were enjoying all the attention of their church friends and extended family. Everyone wanted to hold the little medical marvel, to feel his cuddly heft for themselves, to exclaim anew over how much he'd grown in three months.

Santi had reached for me outside the hotel while we waited for taxis, then fell asleep in my arms as soon as we climbed in. So when we arrived at his home and his mom jumped out of the first taxi to hug everyone, I wasn't sure what to do. I didn't want to intrude on this emotional reunion...but I was holding the baby in the second taxi. Abi, the translator, and I gave it a minute, then climbed out onto the dirt road as a seven-year-old boy came tearing around the cab.

"Donde esta mi hermanito?" Where is my little brother? He reached out his arms and squeezed Santi's ankles, touched his hands. Then someone scooped Santi out of my arms and began passing him around.

When I'd heard Santi had two older brothers, I wanted to bring them some little presents---rubber soccer balls, crayons, notebooks. At the last minute I tossed in some new matchbox cars I found in Isaac's closet. It seemed like a scary situation for a kid---younger brother and mom gone who-knows-where, indefinitely. Brave little kiddos.
The first wave of welcome party!
What I hadn't realized was how long the boys had really been without their mom and little brother. The hospital where Santi spent months before traveling to Canada is an hour from the family's home. Santi's mom, Anita, had lived at the hospital with him while the older boys, seven and 10, stayed home with their grandma, aunt, uncle and cousin. So this wasn't just a homecoming after three months---most of the last year had involved a lot of stress and separation for this family.

The seven year old tucked himself under his mom's arm and periodically returned there to roost, reassuring himself she was there. Anita was very attentive to him, leaning close, listening to him, holding him whenever he came near. The older boy immediately began to tattle on him for acting out at school, which he denied. That made all the aunties and friends laugh and laugh, and the boys ran off to play and hold Santi. They showed me their bunk beds; they gave me kisses for their notebooks.
So happy to have mom back! 
Welcoming home his hermanito
At one point, Anita asked the seven year old if he'd asked God to have her bring him something. "Just you and Santi," he leaned into her again. Then sat up. "And a race car." Anita looked at Abi. "I don't know if God heard that prayer about the race car," she teased. Abi reminded her about the matchbox cars, and Anita smiled across the table at me while she hugged her son close. "Gracias!" she whispered.
Anita and her mom
Anita supports her boys by cleaning houses. When Santi's surgery was delayed, forcing them to stay over another month in Canada, the host family had a good idea. Could Anita turn her love of pretty nail polish into a career shift? They called their friends and asked them to help out. Bags and bags of high quality colors and nail care tools poured in. Anita now plans to take the necessary classes to get her manicurist's license. The boys' dad is not in the picture ("And even if he was, he wouldn't be welcome here," remarked a family member), so increasing her income will make a huge difference in their family.
Abi, Mari, Santi, Anita, Carola
Anita's eyes had filled with tears as we sat next to each other on the airplane, Santi sleeping in her arms. She was telling me about his initial diagnosis, hospital visits, health scares, calling Carola constantly to ask her to save Santi's life, and finally the hope of a better life now with the ability to earn more money for her kids. Tears leaked down her cheeks as she talked about how God used this terrifying ordeal with Santi's heart to change everything about their lives for the better.

"And now, going home," she said, "This morning, I thanked God. It's the best birthday present."

May the next 27 years be filled with as many blessings and more!
Anita's mom serving up patasca 
Patasca: traditional soup in Santa Cruz made of maize, beef, pork, cumin and other spices
Entrance to their home, where many friends and family welcomed and later farewelled us. 

27 June 2014

2000 Hours!

Chris and his friend Bill after crossing Chris' 2,000 hour mark
Oh yeah! Big goal achieved! For months, Chris has been saying he hoped to pass 2,000 helicopter flight hours during this tour. After hearing that a few times, I asked him to keep me posted so we could have a special celebration dinner when it happened. Then came our rapid move and we weren't sure it was going to be possible---June is extremely predictable for RAIN and thunderstorms. Well, IT HAPPENED, BABY!

I told Isaac we needed to go to the store to get Dad a special treat. "Special...treeeaaat?" he considered. "Candy?" I had to explain a Dad treat was more along the lines of tasty steak and potatoes.
Chris and the CO
Anyway, 2,000 hours is like spending over two months straight flying a helicopter, or an entire year flying nine to five Monday to Friday. Wow! Congratulations, Chris!

Then next day, Chris did a soft patch ceremony for a couple of his on wings and got his end of tour award, plus an award from Bell Helicopters for flying over 1,000 hours in that type of helo alone. That's a lot of flying! As Isaac said, "Yay, Dad! I'm proud of you, Dad!"
Looking up to Dad

Chris with his third set of on wings, this week's soft patch recipients

21 June 2014

Have a Heart

Santi, my CHP kiddo
As low points go, it was low. We celebrated the end of 2013 with the happy news that our family was finally expanding. But the first week of 2014, the news was different---another miscarriage. We couldn't seem to shake 2013 after all. We approached the one year anniversary of Isaac's heart surgery and traveling to Atlanta for the worst day of our lives.

I felt like I was in a hole. Stuck. Our family shrinking---again---at a time we'd hoped it would get bigger. Trapped in January. I had this suffocating desire to escape, with the simultaneous knowledge that I could never escape myself---my rejecting, ill body. Still, I wanted to flee, especially approaching Isaac's surg-iversary. I didn't want to talk to anyone, didn't want to be around people, and felt totally demotivated and helpless. I hate feeling helpless. I organized the kitchen. I researched organizations for heart patients. 

Shortly after Isaac's surgery I'd read an article about the Samaritan's Purse organization Children's Heart Project. It coordinates surgeries for kids with heart defects in third world countries. Without the surgeries, the kids will die, but there are no doctors or facilities to perform the complicated surgeries in some countries. Children's Heart Project (CHP) screens kids in country, gets them visas, finds hospitals to donate surgeon time, and flies them to North America for lifesaving surgery. I couldn't even finish reading the article about it last year. It was too raw. Our hugest praise after Isaac's diagnosis was that we had been blessed with the resources to get him the life-saving surgery he needed. My heart completely broke for moms without that option. I set the article aside, but didn't forget. Then, in the pit of dread approaching the surgiversary I researched the organization again.

Online, people were encouraged to help by praying, fundraising, and---for parents of heart patients---talk to their cardiologists or surgeons about getting surgeries donated. I want to do that for Isaac, I thought, to thank God for saving his life. I didn't want to focus on the heartbreak of 2013; I wanted to move forward trusting God, come what may. I filled out a form with a little bit about Isaac, our desire to help, and offering to do whatever was needed. They responded immediately with more info about the program and asking about Isaac's doctors and surgeon.

Then, a couple weeks later, I was delighted by an unexpected email that popped into my inbox. The travel coordinator asked me to apply to be a transporter. Doctors or pediatric nurses meet the heart patients in their home country and transport them, their mom, and a translator to the North American city where they'll have surgery. Then afterwards, they need someone else to escort them home. 

The purpose is twofold: 1. Many patients and their families have never flown at all, much less internationally, and 2. to get their visas approved with the embassy, CHP guarantees they'll be accompanied at all times. 

So they need people with flexible schedules, who are comfortable traveling internationally, who preferably have some link to heart surgery, who can go to the patient's home country. It includes navigating airports, paying for meals and keeping track of receipts, and generally assisting the group in transit. 

It's still hard for me to imagine there is usefulness at the intersection of 'spent too much time in airports' and 'kid had heart surgery,' but YES, of course I will apply! 

If I'd received the CHP invitation to apply any earlier, I wouldn't have been interested because I had just had a miscarriage, or was pregnant, or was sick, or was quarantined with the Goodbaby, or was in the middle of his surgery, or had no connection to heart surgery. I managed to apply in the small window before I found out I was pregnant again. 

Anyway, surprise! I got accepted! I applied in January and found out in early March---the day Santi arrived in Canada---that I would get to transport him home post op. I've been praying for him ever since! 

And that is the full explanation behind why I went to Canada and Bolivia this week. More on Santi's story and CHP in Bolivia once I get home. For now, I'm waiting in the Miami airport for my final flight home. Can't wait to see my boys! 

"He heals the broken hearted, 
He binds up all their wounds." 
Psalm 147:3

19 June 2014

Gloria a Dios!

Today Santi and his mom are home with their family after more than three months in Canada and many, many more months living at the Bolivian hospital beforehand. Their church and large extended family all gathered this morning to celebrate Santi's return. Santi's story from birth is pretty miraculous and I'm excited to write more about it when I get home. 

But tonight there's one thing I can't get out if my head. We bounced down an uneven dirt road and stopped in front of their home. I hung back, not wanting to intrude on the tears and long hugs. Then an older woman approached Abi, the translator, and me. 

"Gloria a Dios!" She said to us through tears, kissing our cheeks and taking our hands. She is the pastor of Anita's church. 

Anita had come to her and said she was terrified to come home from this journey with empty arms. The pastor said she had to go---Santi had already almost died of an infection---and to trust God with the outcome. 

I strongly empathized with that fear. The thought of an empty car seat and a silent drive back to Florida from Atlanta in January 2013 had haunted me. 

And now, here was Anita with arms not empty but three times as full---everyone said Santi had tripled in size, even though he is still less than 20 pounds at 14 months old. 

"Gloria a Dios!" the pastor said again, squeezing our hands and leading us to the courtyard for a prayer of thanks and praise to God, followed by steaming bowls of patasca (a traditional Santa Cruz soup of maize, beef, pork and spices). 

Thank you for praying for our safe travel! It is accomplished! I leave for home in the morning! 

Midnight in Bolivia

Midnight Eastern Time is when we landed and finally cleared immigration. The flight went smoothly. People were chatting warmly and moving around the whole flight---very different from most flights I've been on. Santi joined me in my seat to revisit the article on barnyard animals.
The plane cheered when a flight attendant announced Anita's birthday. Helado con dulce! 
Tired baby all zonked for landing.
We were all ready for some sleep, but relief and joy radiated from Anita. Home on her birthday was the best present, she had said through tears earlier in the day. 

Now we are about to take her, Santi, and their 50 bags HOME about an hour from here! 

18 June 2014

Modern Panama Canal

Phase one complete! My flight out of Florida got cancelled, so I arrived in canada five hours late---after midnight and long after the last hotel shuttle. At least it gave me time to watch some World Cup goals in the Dallas airport within earshot of the gate to São Paulo.

I realized that not only had Isaac and I trooped through that airport two weeks ago (the TRAIN was his favorite part of course), but I also routed through the same international terminal en route to or from Japan a time or two. It was reassuring, because initially being told I couldn't get to canada the right day after the cancellation made me wonder if I'd end up being helpfulto anyone. I also saw a rainbow from the air on the first flight---that was cool and I took it as a very good sign. 

So anyway, I arrived in Canada eventually and took a cab to the hotel. The desk clerk must have felt sorry for me, because I got an upgraded room for all five hours I was there. Then the shuttle driver was late this morning, so they called another cab. "This is going to be expensive," I thought. Wrong! The taxi slip the hotel gave me at checkout was a voucher for the cab ride. Score!

Well, sort of score. The driver dropped me off at the wrong terminal, insisting it was the only international terminal. Which it wasn't. My mistake for not doing enough prior planning. So overall I was late meeting up with Santi, his mom, Anita, Abi the translator, and the host family. But we got checked in, got Anita a special birthday breakfast of French toast, and boarded with no problems.
Santi slept through the first two hours of the five-hour flight---what?! And they served lunch, which I thought they only did on flights longer than six hours. 

Now we are in Panama City, Panama, looking for hats while we wait for our Santa Cruz connection. Rain is pelting the windows enthusiastically. 

This is my second time at the Hub of the Americas (the first was en route to Costa Rica in 2007). Looking at the Copa Airlines flight map and the convergence of flights at this point, I was struck by the similarity to the original point of the Panama Canal---the quickest pass-through point to bring hemispheres together. Then Santi grabbed the flight map and we went back to looking at airline magazine pictures of chickens, cows, sheep and ducks in some featured sunny South American destination. Cluck cluck baaa moo quack! Don't need a translator for that! 

We are scheduled to leave here in a bit to head south across the equator in another five-hour flight. It will be my second time in the Southern Hemisphere, but my first trip to South America! Hasta la vista!