The Dangers of Granola

It began as any typical weekday. I was in the living room working on the computer and Allison was, well, doing whatever she was doing. Before too long though, I heard a shout of, “Hey! Get outta here!” I paused and looked towards the direction of the commotion. “Ughhhhh!” came another cry.

Allison was in trouble, and I was now on the alert. Before I finished what I was doing so that I could go investigate another “Seriously!?? Leave me alone!” erupted from down the hall. Alright, finishing reading the article could wait. I needed to go see what was happening in the kitchen. What I encountered was a terrifying scene.

Bee Attack

Allison was shooing away about a dozen bees that had decided to invade the kitchen amidst her making some delicious, honey-infused granola. She swung her wooden spoon wildly as bees alighted upon the granola-filled trays and cooking utensils. I didn’t want any of that situation and, besides, Allison was already a goner. I turned to leave but a pang in my chest forced me to remain and do what I could to save her…and the granola.

Using my extraordinary clever wit, I snagged the emptied trays (emptied of granola, not of bees) and put them on the back patio while Allison powered on a fan to blow the bees out the door. Within minutes order was restored to the kitchen and, except for a couple of stragglers who couldn’t figure out that there was no passing through a (quite dirty) glass window, we were safe from bees once again.

Bees on Window

But you know, that’s just the way that life is lived down here in Paraguay. Things are a bit wilder, a little less safe, and filled with fun and excitement when looked at in the right light!

Anyone else have some dramatic animal/bug stories they’d like to share?

PCTV Casas: Video Tour Of Our Home

Wow. We are flattered and excited to finally tell you guys that PCTV (Peace Corps Television) selected our house to tour and film. PCTV Casas is a spinoff of the popular MTV Cribs show that features house tours of the rich and famous. Did I say wow?

The PCTV crew came with their cameras and mic booms and Isaiah, in his typical debonair fashion, took them on a tour through our house. He’s a natural in front of the camera. I’m so proud.

Although the episode hasn’t yet aired, we’ve got the hook up for you today. Here’s a little of what’s in store:

  • Our never-before-seen library
  • What we do with our fan letters from around the world
  • The deluxe features of our fully equipped kitchen
  • Isaiah’s genius bathroom invention
  • Some of the advanced security features of the house

But don’t take my word for it. Have a watch.

There you have it. Our casa. What was your favorite part of the house? Any other Peace Corps volunteers getting filmed by this amazing PCTV Casas crew? If so, be sure to share a link to your pad below! There’s nothing I love more than house snooping from the safety of my computer.

Speaking of snooping, have you seen our other video house tours? Don’t be shy. Go on and check ‘em out.

Video Tour of Apartment in Fanore, Ireland

Apartment in Fanore, Ireland

1st Peace Corps Apartment

Making Fancy Bracelets From Toilet Paper Rolls

We have fun at the children’s soup kitchen. I used to dread going because it took so much energy and I felt I was constantly having to discipline the kids.

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

Now things are calm and I enjoy being there!

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

A big change is that Isaiah and I have loosened up, but I do believe the kids are more used to the routines and expectations at the soup kitchen and there isn’t constant fighting or blatant rule breaking.

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

We often read books or play frisbee.

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

At least once a week we plan a simple activity or craft project. On my birthday, we made fancy bracelet cuffs, which were a big hit with everyone!

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

We made them out of empty toilet paper rolls and decorated them with everything from stickers to old Christmas tinsel to stamps that I cut out of envelopes from letters you guys have sent us in the mail!

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

What a big treat it was for everyone to choose their special decorations and create a bracelet just to their liking.

Want to try it out? Here’s how!

Supplies needed:

Toilet paper rolls
Markers
Glue
Yarn
Hole punch
Stickers, old stamps, magazine cutouts, wrapping paper, glitter, anything for decoration!

Process:

1. Cut each toilet paper roll in half.

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

2. Then cut a slit in each cuff so it can be placed around a wrist.

3. Punch a hole in each side of the slit. These will be used to tie bracelet shut so it doesn’t fall off.

4. Decorate the bracelet to your liking. Go crazy!

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

5. Place on wrist and thread yard through the hole punches. Tie yarn in bow so bracelet stays on wrist but can still be removed.

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

What do you think? Around here, it’s the newest fashion trend. Have some fun and try it out! I’m sure you already have the supplies on hand. Happy weekend, everyone!

DIY Solution For Air Purification

How to avoid breathing toxic air

Do you feel lost at what to do when your town burns trash and your nose throat tells you that plastic is on the burning menu of choice, but it’s too hot to close up the windows? Why these simple DIY personal air filters are a quick and easy solution to avoid breathing the pungent air, of course! They’re quite a fashion statement, to boot. Choose a design to coordinate with your outfit or to suit any mood.

This has been a sneak peek into the Real Volunteers of Paraguay. Broadcasting on a blog near you each Tuesday and Friday.

What Do You Want Most?

In two days I devoured Adam Braun’s inspirational book, The Promise of a Pencil, and then stole an idea from him. I used it on our little friends at the soup kitchen. I don’t think he’ll mind.

The book is Adam’s story of finding his passion for helping people, which leads him to quit his high-paying corporate finance job and start a “for-purpose” business called Pencils of Promise which has now built over 200 schools across the world. When he started traveling in other countries he decided instead of trinkets, his souvenir would be to ask one child in each country what they want most in the world. One little boy, dirty and impoverished and without anything to his name responded, “A pencil!”

When Adam handed him a pencil, the boy’s eyes lit up like the world was his oyster, anything was possible, and Adam had perhaps handed this boy hope of getting an education. This is how Adam chose to put all his energy into building (and locally training and staffing) schools, as education can unlock so much for a child’s future.

I loved the book. I also was curious to see how the kids at our local soup kitchen would respond to that same question that Adam asked. “What do you want most, if you could have anything in the world?”

By far the most common answer was this:

If you could have anything in the world?

Hogar. Casa. Home.

If you could have anything in the world?

Another common response was a camioneta. A truck.

If you could have anything in the world?

If you could have anything in the world?

If you could have anything in the world?

What Karina wanted more than anything was to see her mom, who moved to Buenos Aires seeking work to support the family, a story we hear time and time again.

If you could have anything in the world?

And Antonia simply wanted her family to be happy.

If you could have anything in the world?

What about you? If you could have anything at all in the whole world, what would you choose?

The Big Three-O

Unlike Isaiah’s April 1 post last year, this one is no joke. I really turned 3 decades old yesterday!

Allison's 30th Birthday - with Lluvia

Can you believe it? I used to think 30-year-olds were, well, old! I feel so young and wild and free. I feel like same ol’ me. I remember mentioning that to my grandma and her sister when I turned 25. They giggled and said, “Well we still feel like our same ol’ selves too!”

To celebrate, Isaiah got on his sneaky pants and secretly invited a few volunteers to our place last weekend. I knew not of these plans, but I was suspiciously aware he was receiving more phone calls and text messages than normal. I tried not to ask too many questions!

Allison 30th Birthday - Sanny and Lluvia

Unfortunately, the rain in Spain, er Paraguay, is a game changer and change the game it did. It was a very rainy weekend and since long dirt roads connect our town with the two towns from where the volunteers were coming, the buses didn’t run those routes so neither couple could make the trip.

Even so, it impressed me that Isaiah arranged everything and flattered me that our friends were willing to travel all the way down here. They’re taking a literally rain check on their visit.

It’s good to have local friends too. On Sunday Isaiah invited Sanny and Igor, friends from our town, over for lunch and made us homemade french fries and chicken strips — a childhood favorite I suggested would be delicious, halfway in jest as we’ve never made those things at home before. But he figured out how to do it and we had a delicious lunch and fun with Igor and Sanny and their daughter, Lluvia.

Allison 30th Birthday - Isaiah making fries

Allison 30th Birthday - Lluvia

Allison 30th Birthday - Igor

Yesterday, on my birthday, we went to the soup kitchen (like we do every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday) where the cooks made empanadas for everyone – a food that takes a lot of prep that they only make for special occasions. And Isaiah and I had baked two cakes — using Aunt Marilyn’s chocolate cake recipe that has proven time and time again to be a huge hit here! — to share with all the kids. They sang “Happy Birthday” to me in Spanish, Guarani, and then (sort of) in English. All very cute.

Allison 30th Birthday - Comedor Staff

Allison 30th Birthday - Comedor Sings

Allison 30th Birthday - Comedor

Birthdays are fun as friends and family go out of their way to remind you they like you, which just leaves a person feeling good. Thank you for your part in making my big 3-0 a special day. I have a feeling this decade is going to be one of the greatest! What do you think about the 30s? What are your memories of that time? Are you a young whipper snapper and that still sounds super old to you? If you’re in that decade right now, hooray! Let’s celebrate and make the most of it!

The Quinceañera

In the U.S. we know it as the Sweet Sixteen–perhaps mostly experienced through terrible TV shows–but in many Latin cultures girls have their coming of age birthday party at age 15. And it’s a big deal.

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I would liken them to weddings: a wedding with a bride but the bridegroom is yet TBD. The birthday girl is dressed to the nines with sometimes a costume change as the evening progresses. And like a wedding, they are often extravagant affairs that can cost several months’ worth of salary or more.

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Allison and I attended Brissa’s quinceañera this past weekend. Brissa is our friend Igor’s sister, and we’ve had the opportunity to get to know her through several wonderful meals and visits to their parent’s house where Igor, Sanny, and their young girl, Lluvia, had also been living until recently buying their own house.

We went to Brissa’s house the morning of the party as Igor had invited us to help with some of the prep. Our crew was in charge of making the punch which consisted of pureed fruit, sweetened-condensed milk, sparkling cider, and pop. We got stuff opened, blended, poured, and mixed in no time. I got a percussion lesson on the congos, and afterwards we were invited to stay for a Paraguayan asado which consisted of sopa paraguaya, yucca, and, of course, lots of delicious grilled meat. We also got an early peek at the gift (in addition to the party) from the parents: a brand new motorcycle!

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That evening we returned for the party just as the sun was setting. Igor was in the kitchen frying up some of his much-requested french fries for the party and Brissa was having a pre-party photo shoot with the hired photographer. We took this opportunity to snap some of our own photos of, as well as get a photo with the birthday girl.

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We found ourselves some seats at the table with Sanny’s parents, chatting some with them but mostly entertaining ourselves with watching whatever was happening around us. At the appropriate time everyone gathered around the dessert table while Brissa blew out the candles of her birthday cake. Immediately after the clapping subsided kids began chanting “bad girl, bad girl…” and then pushed her face into the cake. Another quinceañera tradition, I assume.

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A quick outfit change and Brissa was back while the rest of us finished up some yummy birthday cake. With the change in outfit the night shifted to more of a dance party atmosphere. The music changed, masks and glowsticks came out, and there were a bunch of teenies dancing just a few feet from our table. It was getting to be time for us old folks to be heading home, but I couldn’t miss this opportunity to chat it up a bit longer with our friends Igor and Sanny.

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Eventually we said our goodbyes, thank yous, and another round of well-wishes to the birthday girl and walked back home through the chill night air, appreciative of having shared in the tradition and celebration of this big milestone in the life of Brissa.

In Paraguay From Around The World

You likely already follow Isaiah’s photo-a-day site, Yuty365.com, where he documents sights that are now part of our everyday life here. If not, you should as he keeps working away on those codes and (insert other computery term here) and it continues to improve and develop over time. Besides, knowing you’re watching will help hold him accountable to his “photo-a-day” promise.

Day 198 shows two big grins: one from me, and one from a new friend named Milanne. As the caption reads, it was a chance meeting on a double-decker bus that brought us together. I had just made the long solo trip back from the US after learning that Isaiah’s flights were cancelled. I borrowed some cash from Devin, a volunteer and friend, and made my way through drizzling rain to Asunción’s bus terminal and purchased my favorite seat: one in the front row on the top level.

I squeezed my huge backpack and many bags of groceries filled with things not available in our little town into the space reserved for me. I had a lot, so as I got settled, my bags took over not just my space but that of the seat next to me as well. A woman appeared, ticket in hand, and looked down at what must have been her seat, which was loaded up with bags of groceries as well as contents of my backpack as I dug around trying to locate those Sunbelt fudge-dipped granola bars I had personally imported from the States.

Milanne's visit

I looked up with a sheepish grin, proclaimed my apologies, and began to tidy up and get my stuff under control. She quickly said it was no problem and that she’d sit in the seat just across the aisle. If the ticket holder of that seat showed up, they would be welcome to sit with me.

Just as I was getting the last of my mess tucked away, in walks a fellow natural blond who sits in the seat next to me. Now this was a bit rare. I didn’t recognize her as another Peace Corps volunteer and tourists and backpackers are honestly few and far between.

We began talking a bit in Spanish. She told me she was just beginning to learn the language, and I was in the process of taking mine off the shelf to dust it after three weeks of no use. Soon enough we discovered we both knew English, switched to that, and chatted most of the 7-hour bus ride.

Allison and Milanne

She was Milanne, a student from the Netherlands who arrived in Paraguay only two weeks prior to conduct interviews with soy farmers, research, and write a thesis on her findings. She was heading to San Pedro del Paraná for the first time, wasn’t sure where that was exactly, and would live with a family she didn’t there for the next five weeks.

San Pedro is a stop about 45 minutes before Yuty, so I told her to get comfy since it would be awhile. She was friendly, down-to-earth, and seemed to be handling the changes and unknowns of her position in Paraguay all in stride.

Before she got off the bus in her new town, we exchanged numbers and I invited her to visit Yuty someday. A week or so later, our plans were made and I opened up our painted green gate and welcomed her into our home. She met Isaiah for the first time and we found we already knew quite a lot about each other from our time of chatting on the bus.

Milanne's visit

She was relaxed and speaks perfect English, and was happy to have a break in her Spanish-learning. We drank tereré and gave her a walking tour of our town. We made homemade tortillas together and although she said it was her first time, she rolled them out for burritos like a real pro. Our friend Igor came over for supper and when he glanced back and saw Milanne in the kitchen, we heard him ask Isaiah if we had a guest.

Without missing a beat, Isaiah said that no, “Allison just grew her hair out again while we were in the States.” After a moment of hesitation and thinking, Igor laughed and Isaiah joined in, explaining truthfully that we did have a guest and introducing Igor to our new friend. It was back to Spanish for the group and I was impressed with how well Milanne could follow along. She had only begun learning a few weeks before!

Milanne's visit

We all finished cooking and preparing the meal and then enjoyed the big burritos with gusto. Though satisfied, we dove in and enjoyed a chocolate cake I baked for the occasion as well and washed it down with tea. I couldn’t help but smile as I looked at the people who sat around our little painted table on our back porch. A man from Paraguay, a student from the Netherlands, and a couple from the midwest USA gathered and eating and laughing and joking in languages not necessarily their first. Thank you, Peace Corps, for this opportunity that makes experiences like that night a thing of not-so-rare occurrence.

Entrepreneurship Workshop

It’s official. I am no longer the coordinator of the Paraguay Emprende entrepreneurship initiative. Although it was quite enjoyable work, it is wonderful to know it’s now in the ever-capable hands of the new steering committee, which is made up of the newer group of volunteers from our sector (Community Economic Development). That doesn’t change the fact that Isaiah and I still believe strongly in the initiative and take part in its programs.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - Gabe

For example, soon after returning from our visit to the US, we helped put on a 1-day workshop in the border city of Encarnación. The main purpose of the workshop was to both spark entrepreneurial interest in Paraguayans, especially youth, and also promote the business planning course that many volunteers, including us, will soon begin teaching in our own towns.

Paraguay Emprende workshop

Paraguay Emprende workshop - Isaiah

We woke early to make the 3-hour bus ride to Encarnación in time for the start of the event. It was held in the Cooperativa Universitaria, who is one of Paraguay Emprende’s main supporting partners. A number of people from the coop as well as a handful of volunteers who live in the region worked together to execute a successful day of learning and fun with the group of around 25 participants.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - Isaiah

In true Peace Corps fashion, we kicked off the day with an ice-breaker to well, break the ice. Groups had to think of creative uses for everyday objects, whether realistic or not. I believe creative thinking is a learned and developed skill, not one that people are simply born with and there’s not much evidence that it is a strong focus in the Paraguayan schools in which I’ve visited. Therefore, it’s an important concept to practice as innovation and problem solving are key skills of any entrepreneur.

Paraguay Emprende workshop in Encarn

The groups also put their creativity and problem solving to practice in designing a contraption to carry a raw egg down a story-high drop so it would land unharmed for their starving Marilina, a famous young Paraguayan singer stranded and hungry at the bottom. (Yep, for this activity she loved to eat raw eggs!)

Paraguay Emprende workshop

Paraguay Emprende workshop - egg drop

Over half of the teams’ contraptions were successful! Then those teams put together a brief marketing campaign in an effort to sell their product to the clientele, also known as the teams whose egg broke. While the marketing plans were schemed, the broken-egg teams reflected on what they would do differently next time, being reminded that a small bump in the road of entrepreneurship is nothing to fret or shy away from.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - egg drop

Paraguay Emprende workshop - egg drop

After lunch, which was generously provided by the Cooperativa Universitaria, we heard from two entrepreneurs. They inspired us with their first-person accounts of the life of an entrepreneur. One reminded us to take the moral high ground and not simply chase the biggest profit. He spoke of the importance of entrepreneurs in creating solutions to problems that exist and combining our passions and beliefs with our work.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - AJE speaker

A saying that has stuck with me is “Creo lo que creo.” Creo (como crear) lo que creo (como creer). Although the verbs are conjugated the same in first person, the first creo (as in the word crear) means to create or build. The second creo (as in the word creer) means to think or believe.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - Allison and Isaiah

In English we’d translate the phrase something like “I create what I believe” meaning that in building our businesses our thoughts and beliefs will be mixed in, for better or worse. If we believe in honesty and doing good, being open and loyal, those are the things we will and should incorporate into our business. Walk the talk, if you will.

Paraguay Emprende workshop

We ended the day with groups analyzing a mock situation and coming up with solutions to any problems they identified. As each group shared their analysis I felt proud of the work the participants put in for the day. They showed up, used their minds, and had fun doing so, all on a Saturday free day.

Paraguay Emprende workshop

Paraguay Emprende workshop - group photo

The event was a success, thanks especially to Aleks, the volunteer from Encarnación who coordinated all the details with the coop and volunteers Jon and Gabe who led their Paraguay Emprende committee in designing the curriculum used for the workshop. And all the other volunteers and Peace Corps staff and coop staff who chipped in time and effort to make this event – and the seven others like it that took place in other cities across the country – a reality.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - Aleks

Paraguay Emprende workshop

Isaiah and I are currently advertising our business planning course, named Construye Tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams), and plan to begin teaching it with our friend Elva starting on April 1. As we teach the lessons on deciding on a business and planning for its success, I think I’ll play both the teacher and the student role as it’s often on my mind to launch a small business of my own someday. I guess you could say I’d like to creo lo que creo.

USA: Trippin’ in Colorado

Allison and I parted ways after California and I went on to Colorado where not only my brother and his family had recently moved but my mother as well. Upon touching down in Denver I immediately wished that I had a cellphone as a last-minute change of plans to stay in town (which then changed back to sticking with the original plan) left me wondering if my brother would indeed be there to pick me up or not.

I was transported back in time to an era when one had to rely on pre-laid plans and one’s wit to make a connection. After wandering the airport I finally decided upon a level and a curbside to wait. As luck wit would have it, a while later my brother, Marvin, rolled up in the familiar green Prius and he greeted me with his new handlebar mustache. My brother and I caught up a bit on the hour-long drive to his house where the rest of his family, my mom, and a delicious supper were waiting.

marvin

When I was a kid I remember with a fair bit of annoyance how coffee-breathed old codgers would coo, “Oh my, look how big Isaiah is getting.” Now as I sit here sipping my coffee and typing out my reflections from my visit, I can’t help but marvel at how much my nieces and nephew have changed over the past couple of years that we’ve been apart.

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Morgan, the oldest, has gotten very much into dance and now can’t help herself but prance about the house and have her every movement be graceful poetry. I don’t think the rest of the family quite got it and didn’t always appreciate walking into a jutting leg so elegantly aloft in the middle of the kitchen or getting whapped in the face by long flowing blonde hair connected to an expressive head movement and spin. But I got it. Envious of such finesse my niece is coming to possess I would sometimes try to steal the spotlight with an impressive leg kick and spin, but to little avail. I’m coming to suspect my time as a ballet dancer shall never be.

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The two younger kids, Toby and Henry, made good playmates for each other. That is, until they didn’t. But all in all they got along quite well and it was fun to watch them imagine different scenarios and play together.

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Toby’s generosity is still evident as she used her own money to buy her big sister a bag of chips who was just returning from a dance conference several states away. She’s also still quite the little pack rat who must take at least 10 toys to her nest in the van no matter how long or short the trip.

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I can now actually have little conversations with Henry, the youngest, as he can now be a talker when he’s inclined. He can momentarily become a broken record with him repeating the same phrase until he’s figured out where he was going with that train of thought, but it’s all very sweet. And, being the baby of the family, he’s still mama’s little boy.

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During the weekdays my sister-in-law Eve typically took me, my mom, and the kids on field trips since Uncle Isaiah was there and they wanted to show me around their new diggs. We drove to and through several beautiful mountains, canyons, national parks, and mountain towns. I also got a chance to tour several factories while there: Celestial Seasonings tea factory, my brother Marvin’s Canyon Bakehouse gluten-free bread and such factory, and ODell Brewing Co. By the end of my time I had quite the collection of hair and beard nets going on!

On the weekends I took full advantage of being in one of the great ski areas of the world and we did some skiing/snowboarding. In fact, the last weekend I was there Marvin and I took a quick 10-hour round trip to go skiing with some of Marvin’s friends who had flown a client to Aspen for a long weekend. In the evenings we played games with the family, and when the kids went off to bed the adults took to the hot tub for talking, relaxing, and maybe a quick movie.

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Photo courtesy of Marvin

Of course, I also got to spend time with my dear ol’ ma as well. Knowing that her techie boy was coming home she saved some projects for me to do around the new house that she had recently moved into. I helped her set up her stereo system and her entertainment system as well. We continued with our tradition of feeding each other’s coffee addiction and sipped on lattes at her place or went out to coffee shops for a change of scenery. Zedo, her black and white cat, was also there and we spent some time chasing each other around the house like back in the good ol’ days. At one point Zedo leaped at me from the top of the loft about 20ft up in a sneak attack that, thankfully, failed and he zoomed past my head only to hit the floor with a heavy thud.

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Towards the end of my time in Colorado I decided to make a quick run into Denver to see a few friends from college. My friend Doug, who I’d seen most recently outside of the US (in Paraguay and Ireland), picked me up from the bus station and we went out for some Mexican food…which brings me to a topic that I can’t believe I haven’t raved about yet. The food! Oh, it was so wonderful to have access to such a wide variety of food once again. But I digress… Doug was ever the gracious host and I was made to feel quite at home in his apartment.

The next day I met up with my friend Jesse who is a counselor/student advocate of sorts who works with around 50 youth in a Denver school district and seems to love his job that allows him flexibility and a chance to make a difference in the lives of youth. A while later friends Andrea and Kristen showed up who have been joined at the hip as long as I have known them though Kristen’s recent marriage probably means that they don’t have quite as many sleepovers anymore ;) Eventually Doug joined up with us and we finished the night with some delicious and spicy Thai food at Thai Monkey Club.

My last day in Colorado turned out to be my third-to-last day in Colorado as I found out that my flight had been cancelled and after an hour and a half the agent couldn’t find a way to get me to Asunción that didn’t use the infrequent Miami to Asunción flight. After my disappointment in not getting to see Allison as soon as I thought lessened, I appreciated this extra time with the family.

As it was for Allison, my time home was a wonderful and rejuvenating time. (Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see my oldest brother, Jeremiah, as he’s currently getting his PhD in math in Iowa and it didn’t work out for him to take a long weekend to visit the rest of us in Colorado.) I look forward to the day when they’ll be a little easier to visit (and when I can see Allison’s family as well!), but until then I’ve returned to Paraguay ready to take on these final five months of service. And, in only a month and a half, my mom will be braving the journey to South America to return the favor and visit us!

Curious about the rest of our USA trip? Don’t miss our time in California with friends or Allison’s visit to Iowa and Indiana. Much fun was had!

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