Letter to Camille: 111 Months

Camille at 111 Months

Hello sweet girl, and Happy 111 Months to you! Right now, you are in Costa Rica, hosting a sleepover with your friend from Sweden, watching a movie from Japan. 
How international of you – I love it! 

Panamanian Metro

This month you added another stamp to your passport when we took our visa run to Panama City, Panama. We were also finally able to fulfill a promise we’d made to you back in the States. You were so sad to leave most of your stuffed animals at home, so we said you could get a new one during our travels. Nosara doesn’t offer many stuffed-animal-buying opportunities, but as soon as we arrived at the airport for our flight out of Costa Rica, you hit the airport stores with enthusiasm. 
It didn’t take you long to discover this cute little tapir with button eyes, so unlike any of your other stuffed animals, and so cuddly. You named him “David Kitson” (the namesake and benefactor of Nosara’s library – you’re being funny) and you love him dearly.

David Kitson the Tapir

In Panama we went on a whale watching tour to the Pearl Islands, we visited the beautiful cathedral in the old city, and hiked in a rainforest park in search of sloths. 

Whale watching in Panama

Studying the trees
The hike – well, that was not your favorite. It was very hot and humid, and the higher we climbed the more despairing your disposition. 

Rainforest HikeWorst Hike Ever

At times like that, I get frustrated – so I started in with a speech about how lucky you were to be hiking in a Central American rainforest looking for sloths. Yes it was hot, yes we were winded, but wasn’t this so much better than sitting around playing Minecraft? 
The speech seemed to fall on deaf ears. And then I remembered that you are 9. That you are uncomfortably hot and tired. That you don’t have the maturity to fully appreciate all the experiences we’re having, especially when they aren’t all pleasurable. I don’t think you’ll ever look back on that hike fondly, but I hope one day you’ll come to agree it was a pretty cool thing to do.

Panama City View

And at the very last minute, at the park exit, we finally spotted an elusive sloth.

The elusive sloth

Back in Nosara, with fresh 90-day tourist visas in our passports, it was back to work and school. The school held an extra-curricular activities fair, giving all the students a chance to see what clubs and sports were offered, and to sign up. We’d already looked through the list, and I suspected you’d choose the art club, the chess club, or perhaps the rock climbing club if you were feeling particularly daring. 
But I was shocked when you announced that you really wanted to join the Muay Thai Kickboxing club. 
I couldn’t imagine you hitting anything, much less anyone, even in fun. I feared you’d want to drop out after the first class, so I tried to steer you toward some of the other activities. How about paddle boarding? Marching band? 
But then I stopped myself – after all, didn’t we come here to try new things? Expand our horizons? If you wanted to experience kickboxing, why should I discourage you?
You’ve had one kickboxing class so far. I was there for the last few minutes of class and watched you hitting and kicking at the teacher, drenched in sweat from the effort. And happy. And quite proud of yourself, too.


You’ve also begun a series of aerial yoga classes, which you adore. You’ve begged us to sell your bed when we get back to Savannah and install a yoga silk instead. You love being cocooned inside, and I agree it looks very peaceful and cozy. 

Cocoons Aerial yogaUpside-Down Namaste

So your weekly activities look like this – viola lessons via Skype with your American teacher on Monday mornings, after-school Spanish on Mondays and Wednesdays, kickboxing on Mondays, aerial yoga on Saturdays, and sometimes surf school on Sunday mornings.

Long Distance Viola Lesson

We’d hoped to escape such a busy schedule when we came to Costa Rica, but somehow manage to have a lot going on anyway. But thankfully there is stil
l time in the afternoons and weekends for swimming in the pool, walks on the beach, or sunset sandcastle building with friends.
Sunset Sandcastles

Beach Walk

You’re settling in very nicely here – we all are. Even if a hike in the rainforest makes for the worst day ever, you like your school, you love your friends, and you’re trying new things. That’s my pure vida girl.
Camille and Her Daddy

Letter to Camille: 110 Months

Camille at 110 Months

Hello sweet girl, my temporary tica! I have so much I want to say to you, it’s hard to know where to begin recounting your transition into life here in Costa Rica. Your father and I were holding our collective breath when we took this trip south, because you’d made it clear you didn’t want to come along. 
The first week, we busied ourselves by settling in to our new environment and doing fun, vacation-type things. But week 2, Daddy and I needed to turn some focus back toward work, and you grew restless. You had FaceTime sessions with your friends back home nearly every night, which I think helped ease the ache. But I knew you were lonesome.

Facetime with a Buddy

But more than lonesome, you were also scared. Scared about school, and the fact that half of your classes would be taught in Spanish. You’re a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to school, and you were stressed to think you might be lost and unable to accomplish your work.
A few days before school began, we took an afternoon trip with our friend Joe for dinner and drinks in Samara, a town about 45 minutes away. After our meal, we were perched on stools at the Microbar, a teeny-tiny craft beer bar that is nothing more than an open garage door, a few stools and two dozen beer taps (and a soda tap for you).

The Microbar

We were the only customers, and about to leave when a young woman sauntered over, grabbed a stool and announced she was on a “one woman bar crawl.” Light conversation revealed that her grandparents lived not far from Savannah, and that her family moved to South Africa from the States when she was 9. Now, she works for an aid agency in Rawanda, and is here in Costa Rica for dental work (wrap your brain around all that for a moment). 
She took a great interest in you, asking you to come over and tell her all about your adventure, about your school, about how you felt. And you were honest – you told her you were scared. 
Grace slipped off her bar stool and got on her knees so she’d be level with you. She took both of your hands in hers, looked directly into your eyes and said, “You are going to do so great. I can just tell. You are a brave girl, and you’re going to have an awesome year.”
It may have been the “bar crawl” that made her so friendly, but it was just what you needed to hear. As we made our way home that night, you announced, “I really like Grace. I wish I’d gotten her phone number so we could talk sometimes.”

Camille and Grace

The week before school started, I put a note up on a local Facebook page asking if any other parents were interested in a playdate, and you finally met some friends. They invited us along on a waterfall hike, and the group of kids folded you into their ranks like they’d known you forever.

Hiking to the WaterfallChecking Out a Turtle

It was wonderful – until it came time to jump. The kids, who’d all been to this waterfall many times before, scrambled confidently up the rocks and then jumped into the cool, deep pools below. You followed along, but when it was your turn to step out onto the ledge, you froze. 

Waterfall JumpingThe View to the Pools

I was watching from the ground, and knew you were terrified. I knew just what you were thinking: you didn’t want to jump, but you didn’t want to be the kid who didn’t jump either. 
We cheered you on from the ground. Then when that didn’t work, we told you that you didn’t have to jump if you didn’t want to. But still you stood there, rooted firmly in place, unable to jump or not jump. Unable to decide.
I finally climbed up there too, but it didn’t help. By this time, the other kids had hiked farther up and were swimming in other pools, but you were unwilling to join them. The jump was an obstacle you couldn’t get past – you couldn’t jump, and you couldn’t bear not to. 
Soon, the moms began packing up and it was time to go. The decision could not be put off any longer. I jumped, because frankly it was a lot easier than climbing back down. And then finally – FINALLY – you closed your eyes and stepped off the rock cliff. You splashed into the water, and then came up smiling and ready to jump again.


I thought it was a lovely metaphor for your current situation. You were scared about your school and your new life here, but eventually you had no choice but to jump. And I hoped, I prayed, that you’d come up smiling.
A couple of days before school started we got your supply list, and saw that you needed to bring books to read – one in English, and one in Spanish. There is a local library, so we made our way there to get you a card and find some books. 
Your library card is actually just your name and a number scrawled onto a slip of paper that I stuck in my wallet, but the library is really quite impressive for such a small town in the jungle. There are many books in both English and Spanish, and you walked back and forth along the English shelves, thrilled with the selection. 

Browsing the Library

You finally settled on “Eragon,” a tome that would nearly fill your entire backpack. Choosing a Spanish book was more difficult thou
gh, seeing as you knew no Spanish. You ended up with “Buenas Noches, Luna,” or “Good Night, Moon,” a book that was a favorite when you were younger.

La Biblioteca

I giggled to see your two school books lined up side-by-side – the hefty English book about a boy and his dragon, and the baby book about bedtime.

English vs. Spanish

The day before school started, you announced that you had the “first day heebie-jeebies,” and I know I did too. But ready or not, the school day arrived and it was time to put on your Del Mar uniform and metaphorically take that leap.

First Day of 4th GradeOff She Goes!

As we mingled with other parents and kids outside the classroom, you were introduced to Camila, a tica girl who speaks Spanish and English. When it was time for us to go, Camila was already seated at a table, and there was an empty chair beside her. You slipped into it, and I was relieved to see you two talking as we crept away.

Camille and Camila

The day felt long, and I didn’t know what to expect when we picked you up that afternoon. I felt there was a strong possibility of tears.
You saw us and trotted over, collapsing into us with the weary hug of someone who has been working hard all day at something new and difficult.
“So Camille, how was your day?” we asked.
“It was good,” you said. 
GOOD! The word bounced happily around in my head as we walked to the car. I would’ve taken “ok” or “not the worst,” but hadn’t expected something as wonderful as “good.”
Over the next few days you made several new friends, some tica, some from the US, another from Canada. 

Pool Pals

But the new friend you talked about most was Agnes. 
She doesn’t share all your classes, but shares Spanish and recess with you. Agnes is from Sweden, and speaks only a little bit of English and Spanish. I think you sympathized with her right away – if you were nervous about learning one language, imagine having to learn two! And not knowing what anyone around you was saying!
That first day of school, the two of you played on the playground during recess. “Did you talk to each other?” I asked, curious how a wordless friendship gets going. 
“No,” you said, “we would point at the tire swing if we wanted to swing, or walk around and look for butterflies. We didn’t say much. Agnes is so nice.”
And I felt a warmth spread across my chest. This – THIS – this was the kind of thing I hoped you would learn and experience here. I hoped you’d learn empathy for others who are also strangers in a strange land. I hoped you would befriend people who weren’t exactly like you. I hoped your world would grow and grow. 
Since then, we’ve had Agnes over for a playdate. It was the quietest playdate I’ve ever witnessed, but it was a happy one. The two of you swam in the pool, walked up the road and collected flowers, played with the dog. You didn’t need to talk to each other to be friends. It was – and is – lovely.

With Buddy Agnes

Into your second week of school, your English teacher gave you a homework assignment. She asked you to write an essay about your first week of 4th grade. 
You finished writing at our dining room table, and I had to beg you to let me read it. I was just so curious – what did you have to say about school? You seemed to be doing well, but when pressed, how would you describe it yourself? 
You finally consented to let me read it (and then consented to let me reproduce it here). 

Camille's Thoughts

Camille's Letter

“I really like this school.”
I read those words with such relief and joy. 
Are there days you get frustrated with your Spanish classes? Yes. Are there days you miss home? Absolutely. Could you have been painting a rosier picture for your teachers? Maybe, but when I asked if you meant everything you wrote, you looked at me like it was the oddest question. “Of course,” you said.
My dear, you jumped off the cliff into the muddy water, and you came up smiling.
I’m so lucky to be your mom, and to have this adventure with you. I couldn’t be more proud, and I love you so much sweet girl. 

Letter to Camille: 109 Months

Camille at 109 Months

Good morning sweet Camille, or “Camilla” as everyone seems to call you here. This is my first letter to you from our temporary home in Nosara, Costa Rica, a place you most certainly did not want to call home before we left Savannah.
You are such a social girl, and I know you hated the thought of leaving all your friends behind. The last week or so in the states were particularly difficult as your friends all started school without you. Every year on the first day of school we get together with buddies and celebrate right after the school day ends. I offered to take you to meet up with everyone, but you didn’t want to. “That will just make me sad,” you said. And I was secretly relieved, because it would’ve made me sad too.
You had lots of “last playdates,” which were wonderful, but I think also served to remind you that you were leaving these people. 

With Lola and JacquelineFroYo with OliverWith Lola and FletcherBuddiesWith LolaThe Dove Girls

As we packed the house, as you grieved over seeing all your toys put in boxes and then into storage, I kept saying, “It’s just a year, Camille. It’ll fly by.” 
One night after hearing that for the thousandth time, you said, “But mama, for me, a year is a really long time. I just turned 9, and it seems forever ago that I turned 8.”

Not Happy

And suddenly, I realized you were right. I remember being a kid, and how slowly time seemed to creep by. Birthdays took forever to arrive. Christmas came as slowly as … well, Christmas. And I realized our mantra of “just one year,” wasn’t the right one to use with you. 
So that night, when I tucked you in I changed strategies. “I know a lot of things are changing, Camille. A new house, a new school, a new country. But what’s not going to change is that you and Daddy and I will be together, experiencing it all together. And for me, home is wherever you guys are.”
You sighed and said, “Yeah, Daddy gave me that speech earlier today too. Except it took a lot longer.”
But you did seem somewhat comforted by this reminder that you weren’t journeying alone. That everything wasn’t changing. 
We moved into Boo’s house for a couple of weeks after our renters took over our place, and I promised that you could bring all your stuffed animals there to keep you company. Your Daddy and Boo reassembled your baby crib and filled it with all 8 bags of your stuffed animals. Upon seeing the crib, you were so happy that you climbed inside and lay there surrounded by stuffies for quite some time.

Her Beloveds

The day before our flight we drove to Jacksonville to stay in a hotel near the airport. You’d finally seemed to shed some of your fear, and began to get excited. That night, as we turned off the lights in the hotel room, you declared, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight. Because, you know, COSTA RICA.”
We did sleep though, and the trip here was thankfully uneventful. You were a trooper hauling luggage and rushing here and there to catch all our flights on time. I love this pic of my world traveler, boarding a plane to leave the US with rainboots, a viola, a backpack and a husky.

Adios Estados Unidos!Safety FirstExplain flying to Chance

Now that we’re here I think you’ve been pleasantly surprised how easy it is to keep in touch with some of your friends through Facetime. Almost every evening, you and Taylor video chat – you show her the view of the ocean (again) and play her a song on viola. She’ll show you her pets or ask questions about your trip, and then play you a song on her trumpet. It’s not nearly as good as hanging out in-person, but I think it’s helped you feel less disconnected.
I’m ready for you to make new friends here, and I know that will happen once school begins. I’m trying to be patient, and you are too. 
And thankfully, I think there are many many things about our adventure so far that you’re enjoying tremendously. One is the privacy of our house, and the fact that you can pretty much walk around naked all day. And you do.
You’ve never been very modest. We do have neighbors here, but our property is surrounded by lush jungle plants so no one can see us. You swim naked. You catch butterflies naked. You just ARE naked. Whenever we remark on it, you shrug and say, “Pura Vida.”

Hammock Time

I once joked that you were going to join a nudist colony. “What’s that?” you asked. I explained, and you said, “Well, YEAH! That’s awesome!”
You and your Daddy are in the pool pretty early most mornings. We’ve also enjoyed re-discovering the beaches, and Guiones has been a great boogie boarding beach. 

Thumbnail image for Pool Time with DaddyBoogie BoardingEnjoying the Waves

Yesterday we drove a little farther outside of town to TreeTops beach to hunt for sea glass and snorkel. We saw lots of pretty fish and even an eel!

Hunting Seaglass

We took a horseback ride through the jungle and on Playa Pelada, which was a ton of fun. We trotted a lot, and our guide gave us the opportunity to canter on the beach. After just a few strides though, you were afraid of falling off and ready to walk again. I look forward to riding more with you and building your confidence. I hope by the time we leave, we’ll have had several long canters along the shoreline together. 
Horseback Ride along the Nosara RiverJungle PathBeach Ride

Most mornings when I get up, I’ll find you sitting on your floor or your bed, watching the hermit crabs you collected from Pelada crawl around your hands. Their names are Carlos and Caleb.

Found her Pet Hermit CrabsHolding Carlos

We still have two weeks until school starts, and it won’t be easy balancing the work that your Daddy and I need to do with trying to keep you from feeling lonesome. These are the times back at home when we’d set up playdates, and so far we don’t have any playdate buddies here yet. But you’re handling the transition remarkably well, and I’m very proud of you. I foresee lots of good things for us this year, and I
‘m so glad to be experiencing them with you and your Daddy. I love you so much sweet girl!

Letter to Camille: 9 Years Old!

Camille at 9 Years Old!

Happy birthday to you, my sweet 9 year old girl! Tonight you are sound asleep, exhausted, happy, and completely waterlogged. 
Your birthday party yesterday was a hit. We’d been planning it for months, ever since that weekend back in January when you asked how old you have to be to go scuba diving. I didn’t know, so we googled (what did my parents do without google?).
You have to be 10 to get scuba certification, but if you’re 8, and under the supervision of an instructor, you can practice scuba diving in a pool. And even better, there is a dive shop in town that does scuba birthday parties for kids.

Scuba LessonScuba Diver

Your friend Taylor’s family was nice enough to let us have the party at their pool, and all you kiddos had a chance to try on the gear and swim for a while. Grown ups could play too, and I loved swimming around with you, sharing the tank and the two regulators.

Mother/Daughter DiveOff to the Deep EndThe CakeThe Birthday Crew

Today, we had a family birthday celebration with Boo and the Kartunens. We planned this party around a pool too because we knew you’d want to use your new present – a shiny blue mermaid tail and matching swimsuit.

Our Mermaid

For a girl who loves to swim and loves to play make-believe, this was the perfect gift. Also, it’s packable so we can take it to Costa Rica. You only had a few minutes to flip your fin around in the water before an afternoon thunderstorm interrupted our fun, but I see lots of mermaid pool time in your future.

SwimmingHappy Mermaid

So while mermaids are definitely “in,” I’ve learned that princesses are now “out.” You are teetering between two worlds right now – one foot is still firmly planted in the realm of little girls, but the other is creeping toward the tween phase. 
Just last week as you were getting dressed for Girl Scout camp, you moodily came into my room and announced that you had no shirts to wear. 
I know for a fact you have a dresser drawer FULL of shirts.
“But they all have frilly sleeves or girly things on them,” you said, looking like you’d just sucked on a lemon.
I started thinking back to your recent wardrobe, and it’s been almost entirely shorts and t-shirts. All your pretty dresses and ruffled shirts have gone untouched. You now despise the color pink, and anything having to do with princesses.
I overheard you and a friend talking the other day about how much you now dislike the movie “Frozen.” It seems baby-ish to you now, and you’ve gotten quite adept at rolling your eyes anytime someone sings “Let It Go,” which you used to play INCESSANTLY in my car. 
But I think there’s really a part of you that still loves the movie. That your disdain is mostly for show. We were going through your DVDs the other day, selecting some to sell in a yard sale. I pulled out the Frozen DVD and held it up for consideration. 
“What about this one? Are we selling it?” I asked. 
Your eyes got wide and you were quiet for a long moment. Then in a small voice, you said, “Maybe not yet.”
And secretly I was glad. I’m not sure how I feel about you shaking off all these treasures of your younger years. “Maybe not yet” seems the perfect reply for now.
Here’s another example of how you’re vacillating between these older and younger phases in your life. This last month, you had your first opportunity to go to sleep-away church camp. I was one of the chaperones, and your buddy Ellanor came with you. 
The camp was held on the campus of Converse College in South Carolina, and we slept in the dorms. You and Ellanor had one room to yourselves, while Lauren and I took the other, with a bathroom adjoining the two. 
You girls were ecstatic and giddy when we arrived, and relished in the unpacking of your suitcases into your dorm room closet. You began “playing college,” pretending to be roommates. I’d overhear snippets of conversation as you discussed signing up for classes and other important college matters. 

Unpacking in their Dorm

But a little while later, I popped my head in the room to check on you girls, and your make-believe game had changed a little. 

“I’m still in college,” you said, “but Ellanor is my pet dog.” And sure enough Ellanor was crawling around on all fours, barking. 
I LOVED it. Because it proved to me that you’re still my little girl for a while longer – a little girl who fantasizes that her friend is a puppy.


One of your favorite thing
s to do over this past year has been to play with the Photobooth app on my computer. It allows you to take photos using the built-in camera, and then edit them with really zany effects.
So tonight, I’ll wrap up with a few of my favorites of the past year, with some of your favorite people.
I love you so much. I’ve whispered prayers of thanks for you many times today, but I don’t have wait until your birthday to feel gratitude for you. I love you so much, every day. Always.

Camille and AudreyMother/Daughter AliensAll About CamilleChancey PantsChipmunk CousinsCousin LoveA Silly DaddyHologram FriendsHer Pitiful ExpressionWith EllaTwinsies

The Visa Dilemma

As we prepare for our trip to Costa Rica, each week seems to bring a new obsession. Something new to keep us up at night, wishing for a crystal ball. This week, it’s the question of visas.

We have two options regarding visas, and if either were certain we’d probably pick it just to be done. But uncertainties abound. 
Option 1: The Perpetual Tourist
I wish I could take credit for the term “perpetual tourist,” because I like it. But I didn’t come up with it – it’s a term people use in Costa Rica to describe folks like us, people who come and stay for longer than a typical vacation, but don’t need permanent residency.
American tourists entering Costa Rica can get a tourist visa for up to 90 days. But don’t even think about coming into the country without proof of onward travel – a plane or bus ticket that shows you exiting the country within 90 days. If you don’t have it, you’re headed back home.
If we go the tourist visa route, we must plan to leave the country at least every 90 days – the expats call it the “border run.” We could drive to Nicaragua, but the roads are gnarly at best, and we can’t drive our rental car across the border. So we’d have to park and go across by foot and find transportation on the other side – not my idea of fun.
We already know we’re making two trips back home, but we’ll need two other international trips to comply. We’d probably fly to Managua, Nicaragua once, and Panama City, Panama another time. That could get pricey.
But where it gets really dicey is that you are not guaranteed a 90-day visa each time you come into the country. Just because you CAN get 90 days doesn’t mean you will. The length of your visa is at the discretion of the border agent, who can be having a bad day and decide to give you a 30 day visa. Now THAT would get really expensive, having to leave the country again every month.
Are we likely to get a too-short visa? Probably not. I polled a group of ex-pats, and while their visa length varied, it was sufficient for their stay. But it could happen, which means some nail-biting each time we go through border control.
So the pros: we get to tick two more countries off our list of “places we visited.”
The cons: the expense and hassle of the extra travel, and the uncertainty of our visa length upon return.
Option 2: Student Visas
Students who are coming into Costa Rica to study can apply for student visas. Since Camille will be attending an accredited school, she could apply for a student visa. Then the idea is that Lee and I would also get student visas, as parents accompanying a minor. 
A student visa would exempt us from the 90-day border run, and all that border control nail-biting. 
However, we’ve talked with four different attorneys in Costa Rica. Two say we can get student visas as parents of a student; two say we cannot legally do that. So who is right? 
And the student visa will not be cheap – it’ll cost about as much as those two extra international trips. 
In addition, we’ll have to send a big chunk of that money in advance to the attorney in Costa Rica to start the process. But what if we get denied? Then we’re back to square one. 
So the pros: no 90-day border runs, no worrying about the length of our tourist visa. Our fate would not be in the hands of border agents. 
The cons: the expense of the student visa, the risk in sending money to an attorney I’ve never met in another country, and the chance that the visa will be denied and we’ll be making border runs anyway.
Decisions decision. 
Off to bed now, so I can pull the covers up to my chin, close my eyes, and fret about this just a little more…

Letter to Camille: 107 Months

Camille at 107 MonthsHello sweet Camille, my pipa, and Happy 107 months! Right now you’re off on a movie date with your Daddy, wrapping up a great weekend of swimming, horseback riding and … learning Spanish. 

Learning Spanish

About that…
In the last month, we made a really big decision – one we’d been wrestling with for a few months now. We decided to move to Costa Rica for a year, beginning in August.
To be honest, you’re not too sure about this whole thing. You knew it was a possibility, and when we finally told you we’d decided to go, you burst into tears. 
I understood your tears completely, but my heart was still breaking as I sat with you in the dining room and let you cry on my shoulder. One of the main reasons your Daddy and I decided to do this crazy thing is because we think it will be WONDERFUL for you. You will experience so many new things, a new culture, new language, new school. You’ll have friends from all over the globe. I have a feeling you will grow so much over this next year as your world literally expands. All the while, we’ll still have the comfort of knowing we’ll come back to the people and places we love at home after a year.
But from where you sit, the trip is mostly full of uncertainties. You’re sad about leaving your friends, and nervous about starting a new school – particularly since some of your classes will be taught entirely in Spanish. And I understand – I am nervous about the newness of it all too. 
I struggled with your tears because as your mother I want to dry them. If there are obstacles or challenges in your way, my first instinct is to remove them. To make life easier and more pleasant for you. No doubt, it would be easier to just stay right here in Savannah, where life has been good to us.
But I also know there is so much value in challenge. I realize, despite my instincts, that my job as your mother is NOT to clear all obstacles, but to teach you how to break through them. Rather than removing all challenges, I need to help you overcome them. I need to help you learn that you are strong.
So in the past several weeks, your father and I have spent countless hours working out all the logistics of the move. Meanwhile, you’ve been obsessing over one particular decision – which stuffed animals to take, and which to leave here. 
You LOVE stuffed animals. We are a lot alike in that respect. I clearly remember going into toy stores as a child and seeing the sweet animal faces and feeling that they really and truly needed my care. Packing for our trip is going to be difficult since we’re not planning to ship anything, so it all has to come on the plane with us. We said you could take three stuffed animals, which seemed generous to us. 
But you have a different opinion. Three seems such a small number to you, and nearly every day you go back and forth on which ones you will bring. You’ve started sleeping with a different stuffed animal each night so that they all have a chance to sleep with you before you go. You’re so sure their feelings will be hurt. 
You commandeered an empty cardboard box and wrote “My Costa Rica Animals Box” on it, and put three animals in it. Then you’d change your mind, take those out and put in three different ones. Repeat.

Costa Rica Animal Box

I have to laugh at all of this, because you’re putting as much energy into the “great stuffed animal dilemma” as we are into researching healthcare, banking, car rentals and insurance. Oh to be 8 years old…
Although Costa Rica has taken up most of our mental real estate in this last month, it’s not the only thing I want to write about. We also made our annual pilgrimage to Disney for Star Wars Weekend at Hollywood Studios. 
Your costume request for this year was quite challenging. You wanted to be prototype Boba Fett. There are Boba Fett costumes out there, but “prototype” Boba Fett is something else. It’s the costume the movie-makers created first as they were working out the details, and no one is manufacturing this version of the costume for the public.
But your Daddy loves his girl and he loves Star Wars, so he took on the task. He found a computer program that allowed him to scale the helmet to your size, then print out template paper that could be cut, folded and glued into the helmet shape. After that, fiberglass cloth and bondo were added to give the helmet strength and stability. 
It took him many, many, many months. Then he and Boo worked together on the rest of your costume, which turned out better than any of us could have hoped. Here you and Ellanor were trying on your outfits at the beach before we left for Disney.

Star Wars on the BeachStar Wars on the Beach

It was great fun taking both of you around Hollywood Studios, posing for pictures with the characters and even with random people who just wanted to be photographed with you.

With Darth MaulGirl Bounty Hunters Rock

One highlight was getting your picture made with Jango Fett, and the way you two stared each other down for a long time before striking a pose. 

With Jango FettWith Jango Fett

But I think my favorite picture is this one with Chewbacca and Wicket. 

Wookies and Ewoks

You were SO excited to see the little ewok, and after waiting in a long line you were thrilled to give him a hug. When it was time to snap the picture, you laced your arm through his and leaned in close. There you are, in a bounty hunter costume that is designed to look powerful and aggressive, but you’re snuggled up to the ewok, looking gentle and even dainty.
That’s my girl in there, for sure. So soft and sweet on the inside.
After Star Wars Weekend it was off to cousin camp, where you had a blast with Stella and Jane, and Nana and Granddaddy of course. I absolutely love this pic of the three of you – so sassy.

Sassy Cousins

The rest of our summer will be spent in a few camps here in Savannah, and then filling our down time with packing packing packing. 
I sure would love to be able to see in the future and to reassure you (and myself) that this trip to Costa Rica is going to be wonderful. Who knows, at the end of a year, you may have fresh tears because you don’t want to leave your new Costa Rican friends. Or maybe you’ll be so ready to get back home. But either way, my hope is that one day, you look back on this year and see it as a gift. Leaving your comfort zone isn’t always easy, but adventure can be a marvelous teacher. I hope we will all learn so much, and best of all, we’ll learn together.
I love you so much sweet girl.

Temporary Ticos

In about 8 weeks, Lee, Camille and I are going to pack up some clothes, two computers, one dog, one guitar and a viola, and we’re moving to Costa Rica for a year.
Wait. What!?
I know. I know. It’s crazy. Even typing it now, I vacillate between being excited and wanting to throw up.

Costa Rica 2013

Where does the story begin? Two years ago, when we went to Costa Rica for a month? Or maybe it began when we came back home, and immediately started plotting ways to get back there again.
You could also say the story began when we put our house on the market last year. Not that we had Costa Rica in mind at the time, but putting the “for sale” sign in our yard set certain things in motion we didn’t anticipate.

We had stumbled upon another house in the neighborhood we wanted to buy, so we put ours up for sale. But the process dragged and dragged, and we lost enthusiasm for it after 6 months of endless house showings but no offers. 

We were about to pull the house off the market 3 months ago, when I got this text message from my mother. 

“I just showed your house.”
She was visiting us, and at first I was annoyed about the intruding buyer. We didn’t have any showings scheduled for that day, so who had the nerve to just come knocking on the door?
Turns out, it was a priest. Specifically, the priest from the church across the street. The church is about to undergo a major construction project, and they need to relocate the parish offices for a year. He saw our for sale sign and wondered, were we interested in renting our property to the church? 
At first, we said thanks but no. Renting our house would only displace us.
Then one night a few weeks later, just as we were slipping under the covers, Lee had an idea. 
“You know,” he said, “we could rent our house to the church for a year and go to Costa Rica.”
Neither of us slept very well that night.
Or the next night. Or any night since. Because he was right – we could do that.
But should we? There were So. Many. Questions. rolling around in my head. Like: 
  • Where would Camille go to school?
  • Could we afford to do this? The cost of living in Nosara, our preferred area of Costa Rica, is high. 
  • Would we need a special visa? 
  • Would we have stable internet, and would our business suffer? 
  • What would we do about a car?
  • How would we get our medicines? 
  • How would we handle the separation from our family and friends? 
But there were so many possible advantages too. We loved the time we spent in Costa Rica. If we went for a year, Camille would have a chance to really absorb another culture. And Spanish! She would totally learn Spanish. Moving to Costa Rica could be a terrible idea. Or a fantastic adventure. 
I wrestled with all of this, and ultimately decided to leave it to God, leave it to fate, leave it in the hands of the universe. We would begin researching schooling, housing, internet, etc., and see if the doors opened to us or were shut tight.
I googled schools. Here in Savannah, Camille attends a wonderful public Montessori school. Turns out, Nosara has an international bilingual school – and not just that – it’s a Montessori school too. 
But maybe they would be full? So I called, and asked the receptionist if there were available spaces next year for 4th grade. 
“Ah, our current 4th grade is over capacity,” she said. So I prepared for this door to slam shut, but then she went on to explain. “So we’re adding another 4th grade class next year. We will have plenty of room.”
We submitted Camille’s application, did a Skype interview with the headmaster, and she was in. 
School = Check.
We looked at housing, and narrowed it down to three homes. One was really nice but too expensive, so we asked the homeowner if he’d negotiate on price. 
He cut his monthly rate in half. 
Housing = Check.
We asked him about internet, concerned for our business interests. Did he have phone or cable internet (cable being preferred)?
He has both, so if one goes down, the other is usually up.
Internet = Check.
We decided we’d sell Lee’s car and buy one in Costa Rica, which was giving me lots of heartburn. Buying a car there is a complicated process and involves hiring your own attorney. Did the homeowner happen to have any leads on a car we might buy? 
Turns out, he has a car just sitting at the house, and he’ll rent it to us at a fraction of what the rental agencies charge. 
Car = Check.
And so on. Even though the prospect of moving to Costa Rica for a year is daunting and overwhelming, the universe seems to be flashing a big neon sign that says, “GO!”
I cannot begin to tell you how much work and planning we’ve already done, and how much more work and planning there is to do before we leave. We like adventure, but we don’t like uncertainties. We dwell on the logistics, and there are still many unanswered questions and puzzles to solve.
A couple of months ago, as we were weighing all of this, I also happened to be filling out a questionnaire for University of Georgia alumni. One of the questions was about what advice we would give to UGA students today.
I wrote, “Always be a seeker and don’t lose your curiosity. When a new challenge, opportunity or adventure presents itself, don’t be afraid to try something new and bold. You may not always succeed, but sometimes you will, and no matter the outcome you’ll grow and learn if you keep seeking.”
And then I realized I needed to take my own advice. So we’re going. I’ll be updating the blog a lot as we prepare to go and once we get there, and Lee is creating a website for this trip too. Once it’s up, it’ll be at TemporaryTicos.com. Ticos are what the Costa Ricans call themselves, and we’re going to pretend to be like them, just for a little while. 
So send up a prayer for us, send us your good mojo, and for goodness sake please make plans to come visit!

Letter to Camille: 106 Months

Camille at 106 MonthsHappy 106 months, love (8 days behind, but who’s counting?)! Right now, we are mid-way through a week long beach vacation at Cape San Blas in Florida with Boo and your pal Ellanor. This is the first trip that we’ve let you bring a friend – I guessed that a whole week at the beach would be more fun with a beach buddy. I was right – you girls are getting along great!

Snuggles with EllanorWave JumpersSeaside WatermelonNook

You’ve spent hours and hours jumping waves, making sand figures, and collecting shells. We had a campfire on the beach last night, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. It may not have been the most balanced meal, but it sure was fun to cook and delicious to eat, even with a side of sand.

Roasting HotdogsMarshmallows at the BeachWith Daddy at the Beach

You’ve also enjoyed outings to the nearby bay, where you two like to wade through the waist-high water with buckets and nets, looking for creatures. Sea slugs are abundant, and you love to put them in your bucket and then scoop them into your hands. 
“They love me, mama!” you squeal, as they flutter against your palm.

Beloved Sea SlugsSea SlugsHunting in the Bay

We began this beach vacation the day after school got out. Your first official day as a fourth grader. 
Third grade was good to you. You have a nice group of friends, you did well in your school work, and you really seemed to enjoy going to school. I got to help out during Field Day, and it’s always a treat to see you with your school buddies and get a peek inside your school social life. From where I sit, it looks like a good one.

Field Day BuddiesField Day Friends

The end of the school year brought several other celebrations. You performed in the spring concert of the Armstrong Youth Orchestra, and then just a couple weeks later had your first solo viola recital, playing Bach’s Minuet III. 
I always want to remember how adorable you looked at the orchestra concert – so grown up with your instrument perched on your shoulder, but so young, with your feet swinging, not touching the floor.

My favorite viola playerSpring ConcertCamille's First RecitalCamille & Lola

Then it was time to wrap up your second and final year as a Girl Scout Brownie, and “bridge” over to being a Junior.
Girl Scout Bridging Ceremony
It was a month of wrapping things up, of closing chapters and opening the chapter of summer. I think we got things off to a good start, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
I love you so much.

Letter to Camille: 105 Months

105 MonthsHappy 105 months my sweet girl! My nature girl. My animal lover.

We took a trip north to Asheville this month for spring break and a reunion with the Hensley family. You’d been excited about this trip for ages, because you so wanted to see buddy Sam and boyfriend (ahem) Will. You and Will have called each other boyfriend/girlfriend for years. I keep wondering when one of you will outgrow this elementary school romance and want to pair off with someone local instead. But so far, the two of you seem satisfied with seeing each other once a year, and always pick up right where you left off.

Camille and Will

And you’d think Sam might feel left out in this trio, right? But it just seems to work – the three of you pal around perfectly. 


This year we rented a cottage on a real, working farm nestled into the Blue Ridge mountains. The pack of enormous, muddy, friendly farm dogs were constant sources of fun for you all. You named them and hugged them and fretted over them and even tried to ride them like horses. You loved swinging on the trapeze by the creek, or walking the hanging bridges to an amazing treehouse complex.

The TreehousesThe Trapeze Swing

The farm was a place of great freedom and liberation, as we felt free to let you all wander. Off you’d go up the gravel paths together, in search of the family of peacocks or to visit the horse. We wouldn’t know exactly where you were or when you were coming back, but we knew you all were ok. Better than ok, we knew you were having a wonderful time.

The Gravel RoadOff to Find the Peacocks

Our trip encompassed the Easter holiday, and the location was idyllic for an Easter egg hunt. We hid more than 100 eggs in the tall grasses and shrubs, and enjoyed watching you three dash about for the prizes.

On the HuntFound one!

So, about Easter … 
The night before Easter, we were all lounging in the living room of the cottage, talking about Easter traditions. When I was growing up, the Easter bunny would send me on a scavenger hunt for my basket. I’d wake to find a post-it note on my nightstand or headboard, and I’d follow the clues upstairs and downstairs until finally finding my basket of goodies in the dryer, the pantry, or some other covert place. 
Without thinking, I said aloud, “I wonder why I’ve never done that with you, Camille? Maybe I should.”
To which your Daddy replied, “Don’t you mean the EASTER BUNNY should do that?”
Whoops! We both looked at you for your reaction. I knew you were already suspicious about the whole Easter bunny thing, but you’d never asked us for the truth. Had I just outed myself as the Easter Bunny?
“Yeah mom,” you said with a sly smile, “Don’t kill the magic.”
Ha! So it appears you do know who’s behind your Easter morning basket, but you want to keep playing the game. Sure thing love – we’ll keep playing!
It’s always hard to say good-bye to these great friends, but at least our trip wasn’t over when we left the Hensleys and the farm. Our next stop was Tennessee and Nana and Granddaddy, and a visit to the aquarium.

JellyfishWatching the FishSurrounded!

The animals were fascinating, and each time one swam in your direction, you were sure it was coming to visit you. You’ve always felt a connection with nearly every animal you see.
Dead or alive.
Last week, I was standing in our driveway before church when I saw a dead baby possum near the garage. I knew you’d want the chance to see him up close, and he didn’t look grotesque yet, so I went back in the house and told you what I’d found. You quickly slipped on shoes and ran out to see for yourself. 
“Oh!” you squealed. “He is sooooooo cute!”
I told you repeatedly not to touch him, and you didn’t. But you knelt down close, looked into his vacant eyes and said, “I feel so sorry for him! Mama, can we bury him in the backyard?”
Oh good grief. It was a Sunday morning and we were all in our church clothes. We were not about to go digging a hole in the backyard for a possum who was not a pet, and I told you as much. 
“So what are you going to do with him?” you asked. A pause. “You’re not going to just put him in the trash, are you?!?”
Which of course, was the plan. Your Daddy and I tried to reason with you. We couldn’t bury him in the backyard –
what if the dog dug him up? Maybe we could just put him in the alley and let vultures eat him – circle of life and all?
But the more we tried to persuade you, the more heartbroken you were, until you finally collapsed in your Daddy’s arms with uncontrollable sobs. 
Honey, you get it honestly. I remember as a child looking at a dead fly that had been killed in my house. The more I looked at it and contemplated its short life, the more upset I felt. So I had a funeral for it. I found a container, dug a hole with a spoon and buried it.
So I was secretly relieved when your Daddy sighed and said, “What if we bury it in the alley after church. Will that make you feel better?”
And so you did. After digging the hole and covering up the possum, your Daddy asked if you wanted to say some words over the animal’s grave, but you didn’t. So he summed it up with, “Hey possum. We didn’t know you, but we hope you were nice.”
My sweet girl with a tender heart – that sensitive side is going to cause you some pain throughout your life. But it’s also going to allow you to experience great love and joy, so I’m glad it’s part of you.
I love you so much.

Israel Part 2: The Race

I may not have the solution for peace in Israel, but going for a run may be – quite literally – a step in the right direction. 

After several days of touring (and eating and eating and eating), it was time for us to burn some calories and fulfill the original purpose of our trip – to experience the Jerusalem Marathon series.
The day before race day, our crew of writers joined many others on the roof of the Mamila hotel for a press conference with Mayor Nir Barkat and several other race and tourism officials. The race is a big deal for Jerusalem, and 25,000 runners were descending on the city at that very moment. Some of the elite runners were invited to the press conference too – these folks who could finish a full marathon before I could finish a half. Here they are, with Mayor Barkat (also a runner) in the middle.

Press Conference

In addition to filling us in on the race details, the officials commended us for our courage and our bravery in coming to their city for this event. 
Wait – my what
I’d mostly put safety concerns out of my mind up to that moment. But here they were, telling me I’d been brave to make the trip. Oh what had I gotten myself into?
All those runners and volunteers and spectators – what targets we could be. But I also knew the security would be robust, and truly I didn’t feel brave or frightened. I just felt excited for the opportunity to run this race. 
The race series includes everything from an 800 meter charity race, to a 5K, 10K, half-marathon and full marathon. Neither Lee nor I were adequately trained for one of the longer races, so Lee signed up for the 10K and I the 5K.
Race morning dawned sunny but chilly, and I was grateful for our press passes that gave us access to a tent at the finish line. We also happened to be next to the merchandise tent, where everything with a race logo was half-price. Lee and I snagged some matching race jackets and bundled up.

Race Swag

But by the time the 5K was ready to begin, the sun felt warm and the conditions were race-perfect. I lined up at the start, with live music to my right, costumed characters to my left, and surrounded by thousands of others runners. There were individuals and families and youth groups. There were people dressed like me, and there were others wearing long sleeves, long pants and head coverings according to their religious customs. I heard many different languages, but all spoken with the same excited energy that is always found at the start of a race.

Obligatory Selfie

There were runners from 60 countries present, and even racers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We crossed the start line and began climbing the hills of Jerusalem, and I thought how wonderful races are for bringing people together. Races are a celebration of human spirit. Running is not a Jewish thing or a Christian thing or a Muslim thing. It’s not an Israeli thing or a Palestinian thing. It’s a human thing, and there we were, being humans together. Sweating and laughing and breathing and running together.

Jerusalem Marathon Series - 5K

The police presence was obvious along the race route, but not in a threatening or unwelcome way. I love this pic by one of the other writers in our group, Dax of dirtyrunning.com. Their weapons were intimidating, but their grins told a different story.

Race Security

The race was hilly and challenging. With the 5K though, you don’t really go far enough for an expansive vista, but oh how I wish I could’ve been in shape for the half marathon. I’ve seen the pictures from writers on our trip who ran longer races. Yes, the course was uphill and difficult, but when you run to the tops of those hills you get some magnificent views. The longer courses also take you through the Old City of Jerusalem. To run on those streets steeped with so much history must be a thrill.
I crossed the finish and was pleased to collect a finisher’s medal – not too many 5Ks give out medals, and this is certainly one souvenir I will cherish always. Then I saw Lee off for his 10K, and even got a glimpse of him later on the course near the finish line – he was one happy runner.

BlingLee on the Race RouteFinishers

I totally understand why the Ministry of Tourism invited us on this trip. Jerusalem is in need of some good PR, of some displays of unity rather than the divisive images most of us see on the news. And if you’ve ever run a race, you know what happens when you’re on the course – there’s an instant camaraderie you feel with your fellow runners. Racing is an individual sport, but one that fosters a strong communal bond.
That’s just the kind of thing Israel needs. The kind of thing we all need, don’t you think?