Late for 2010. Early for 2011.

**We realize this never made it out to some of you. We don’t know why. It’s okay to put 200 stamped letters in your mailbox with the little flag up, right? I don’t really know about mail etiquette. But here is. A little holiday update. You’re drooling. I know.

Happy Holidays! Jeff and I want to take this opportunity during the season of Thanksgiving to express our sincerest gratitude for all who have planned, helped, participated, and celebrated the last 6 months with us. We were blessed with a spectacular oil-free wedding in Destin, FL and a gorgeous rain-free reception in Beloit, WI and were able to visit with many of you during those gatherings- although not for as long or intently as we’d have liked!

We also want to give an update on the life and times of the brand new Hartmans, including our relocation to a new city and new jobs- which we request as justification for how late (or how not at all) this thanksgiving has arrived in your mailbox! Please?

Following our honeymoon in Breckenridge, Colorado, Jeff returned “home” for the first time to Indianapolis, where Brooke had moved three months earlier to begin as a Social Worker at a downtown hospital in the Emergency Department.  Prior to the wedding, Jeff accepted a unique position as Physical Therapist in the same Emergency Department and began on August 2nd. We have been working across the hall from each other for about three months now, and the Social Work department has seen a sharp increase in printing activity, as the printer is located in the PT office.

In addition, Jeff continues to work part-time as the Stateside Director of Operations for Hillside Healthcare International in Belize, and Brooke works part-time as a Behavior Consultant for developmentally disabled adults through the waiver program and a therapist for emotionally impaired kids through a state grant.  Jeff would like you to know, he is not one of Brooke’s clients.

Jeff also continues to mourn the loss of Madison, but we’ve added the Big Ten Network to the cable line-up and he’s discovered an iphone app (yes, Jeff has an iphone!) that allows him to tune-in to the Madison radio talk shows. As we embrace our first winter in Indianapolis, Jeff asks things like: does water freeze here? And Brooke is rolling around in winter coats and boots she hasn’t had use for the last few falls in New Orleans or Belize. Somehow we’ll adjust.

Until this week, we’ve been living downtown Indianapolis on the Canal, but we close on our first home together in the Arts & Design District (spoken with an English Accent) in Carmel, a suburb north of Indy. We put those qualifiers on the Carmel home for the local friends who are standing by with Carmel jokes. We will be in Old Carmel, two blocks off Main Street, and we bought the house from the friend who set us up in the first place!  Given that she introduced us and sold us our first home, we are considering an advanced order for kids. Kidding.

As we reflect on this past summer, we want to thank you (yes, you) for making 2010 the best year ever. Thank you for the gifts, cards, fellowship, prayer and celebration!  Please accept this thanks, albeit a couple of months late, as sincere and heartfelt.

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We did.

Welp. I’m back on the writing train, because every 5 days I think: Oh! I need to tell the internet that. No really, I do. I’m just that kind of person.

For starters, I got engaged.
Then, I got married.
Next I hiked to the top of a mountain.

The engagement was not a fee-for-service arrangement, which shocked my brothers, I think. It was totally voluntary on his part, and dreamy. This from our wedding site:

We met. We fell in love. We’re getting married.

More?

Okay, we were introduced by mutual friends and our work in Belize in the spring of 2008. We spent a few months sending e-mails like: Hello. How are you? The weather’s great! before Brooke left for graduate school in New Orleans and Jeff continued life and work in Madison.

We stayed in touch throughout the fall and discovered we would both be in Belize at the same time that November. Of course we would try and meet up! Unfortunately our plans were interrupted by country-wide flooding and busy schedules. We were 90 miles apart in the same foreign country working on two different projects with the friends who had first put us in touch, and still couldn’t meet.

Three weeks later, we met for the first time under the silver ball at Millenium Park in Chicago. It was December 20, 2008, and it was snowing.

We spent the next year jet-setting between New Orleans and Madison, Destin and Indianapolis, Las Vegas and Belize, and finished the year back in Chicago on the 96th floor of the Hancock building. Overlooking the city we’d first explored the year before and the adventures 2009 had brought us, Jeff proposed and Brooke accepted.

It was December 20, 2009, and it was snowing.

The real story is this: Jeff said, “Will you marry me?” and I said, “Wait! You have to put it on my finger.” So he put the ring- which was from Tiffany and engraved with I love you– on my finger and asked again. Of course I said Yes! But he likes to tell people he had to ask twice.  What I remember most is that we sealed the deal over guac. What a story.

What I find hard to believe is that for 29 years, I didn’t have a fiance. And for 29 years, there has not been an oil spill in Destin.  But then I get engaged and plan a wedding in Destin on the beach.  A month later? The gulf is filled with 200 million gallons of oil.

Life’s like that, I guess.

Prior to the wedding, our families spent an entire week together at the beach house sharing meals and stories and sunscreen. To my knowledge, no one peed her pants laughing, which tends to runs on my side of the family. Whew.

The wedding was held on a private (oil free!) beach accessed by a spectacular 50-foot dock, lined with little flicker candles, at sunset. Perfection. I floated right down that long, plenty-of-time-to-turn-around aisle toward a handsome groom in a cream-colored suit without a second thought. Well. I did wonder if the flower in my hair was falling out, since it took a glue gun, wire cutters and a thousand bobby pins to secure in the first place. And the reception was held at the beach house, on the other side of that same aisle, with bistro and twinkle lights strung over tables and balconies.

It was an Olympic wedding. Literally. Our pastor, my friend Kim Black from grad school (go ahead, google her), was a gold medalist in the 2000 Olympics and brought her medal to our Olympic wedding to share. I held it. You want to touch me? 

Of course we plan to renew vows every 4 years.

For candid pics of the ceremony, click here
For  professional ceremony/portrait/reception pics, click here
For getting ready pics, click here
For reception pics, click here
For wedding week pics with the fams, click here

Fifty something.

I sure love this guy.
He’s the reason I am so unbelievably skilled in the art of 70’s dance.

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Happy birthday, Dad.

2008, we did the best we could.


January
Moved to Belize. *Carry-on bag wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment. Attendant made me take out bulge on top, which happened to be a Ziploc gallon-sized bag of underwear. Held underwear on lap for duration of the flight.

Lived on an Iguana reserve. Learned how to do laundry with a hose. Experienced Belizean wedding and funeral in the same week. Set out to teach everything I knew about conflict resolution, drugs, and AIDS. Learned everything I know about love. Got accepted into grad school.

February Caught a parasite, hiked to the top of a ruin, swam in a cave, experienced my first Belizean election and confirmation. Fought a piñata. Lost.

March Overcame fear of spiders. Discovered a new love for choco-bananas. Played with a monkey. Met real Guatemalan Indians in Guatemala. Bought skirt from them. Watched the Ruta Maya river race. Said goodbye to the Caribbean. Understood that life would never be the same.

April Got a niece! Heart opened a little wider. Fell in love with her.
Turned 27. Panicked. Cut my own bangs.

May Got another step-family. Danced! Celebrated! Laughed!
First laid eyes on my new city, New Orleans. Stabbed my foot with a parking lot spike.

June Went back to work at Boys and Girls Club. Happy to find that I still loved the kids. Got shingles. Thought I was dying.

July Sold everything I owned on Craigslist. Moved out of Fort Wayne (ten years!) Received Carrie Bradshaw as a parting gift.

August Moved to New Orleans. Found the two-story target, which I had previously thought was an urban legend. Took a family vacation to Destin. Came back. Became acquainted with city life. Loved it. Went to Tulane for student orientation after a month of waiting. Got evacuated for Gustav at lunch.

September Stayed evacuated for two and a half weeks. Went back to school. Dropped ten pounds for lack of friends.

October Made friends! Gained ten pounds. Heard that Taylor Fort Wayne would be closing. Felt orphaned. Dressed up like a ninja and fought pirates on Jackson square.

November Watched history unfold in the TSSW building with snacks and wine. Found out Bry and Jess are pregnant again. Went to Belize. Delivered school supplies. Painted a cafeteria. Provided flood relief with two armed guards on the Guatemalan border. Became acquainted with Big Mac and Quarter Pounder, the tarantulas. Realized I had not overcome fear of spiders. Had the sweetest reunions I could ever imagine at San Marcos School.

Learned that a plan is usually unfolding around me even when I am not still or patient enough to see it. Discovered that if I feel lost even for a second, all I have to do is ask for help. Understood the beauty in a prayer that goes, “Hi God, I’m an idiot and I don’t trust myself. Could you make this one clear for me?” Trusted completely. Found out I am purposed. Convinced Tulane I am purposed. Doing last semester internship in Belize!

December Wrote a thousand papers. Failed a final. Got all A’s!
Watched snow fall in New Orleans. Saw Lily take her first 3 steps.
Went to Chicago. Smile.

My motherboard, myself

Macbook is home.

The motherboard was defective, whatever that means. I thanked the guy and said, “Yeah, my mom has been acting funny too lately, can you do anything about her?”  He would have laughed, I’m sure, but my phone rang. It was my mom. See? She knows.

Which brings me to my next topic: Adult Children of Active Facebook Users.

When did it become normal for parents start creeping onto Facebook? I realize my parents are just extra-technological with finding internet spouses and all, but honestly you guys, as a group, we really dropped the ball on this one. Parents should be confined to the geriatric network (as opposed to the Indianapolis or FW network)—which could be visited, but, for the love of God, not flung wide open for all of them to just run loose. Don’t even get me started on grandparents hanging around—there goes my whole new blog idea: Conversations with Crazy Grammy.

Brookie?
Hey grandma.
Are you working?
No.
Are you busy?
No.
Well, I didn’t think you’d ever call me back.
Grandma, I’ve been calling you all week. I left three messages.
No, you didn’t.
Yes, I did. Check your messages.
Nope. My phone makes a little noise when there’s a message.
Well, I left one. Maybe its broken or something.
No, it always makes a little noise. You must have called someone else.
Grandma, it was your voicemail. Your number is on speed dial. It was you.
No. Huh-uh. It didn’t make that little noise.
Why don’t you just check your messages. Just in case. I’ll wait.
No, Brookie. It always makes that little noise, but—Oh! (laugh) Isn’t that funny? (laugh) I have three messages. (laugh) It always makes that little noise. (laugh) Isn’t that funny, darlin? (laugh)
See? I told you.
Well, I just hadn’t heard from you in a while. I thought I might get a thank-you card or something for the pajamas I gave you last spring.
Oh, well, yeah, I love those pajamas. I thought we covered that at the house. Sorry.
Well, you’ve been busy. You’ve got a lot going on up there. Are you running around with Sprinky today?
No, she is in South Carolina
Oh! She is? What’s she doing there?
Visiting our other friends, Bethany and Mike.
Oh! Bethany and Mike live in South Carolina?
Yeah.
You never told me that.
They’ve lived there for a year and a half.
Well, you never told me.
They moved last April.
You didn’t tell me they moved.

I didn’t know you knew them.

You didn’t tell me.
Grandma, I didn’t know you wanted to know.
That’s okay. You never tell me anything about your friends. You’re just too busy. Too busy for your grandma.

Hmmm.

In other news, I started working this week. I got a job at the Tulane bookstore. I basically hang Tulane clothes all day and refold everything when waves of freshmen or cheerleaders or foreign golf players come in and try everything on in front of the mirror. My favorite is when the owner comes through, stands in front of a certain display and says, “Y’all’s folds are bad.”

I also love watching at all the bossy mothers in east coast accents holding up 80 different-colored sweatshirts to a nervous, eye-rolling new freshman while the little sister tries on $90 hoodies and the dad just moseys behind, whistling. I can’t help but imagine my little brothers being interested in a sweatshirt or a Taylor hat. It just never happened. If my brothers had been there, we would have ended the day in Allen County lockup for minor consumption, especially now that Brandon has taken to running around town with a can of Budlight in his hand pawning other people’s books. They were just never really into things like college hats or college sweatshirts or traditional college at all, really.

Moving on.

I made three friends in three days. They work with me in the bookstore, and all three wanted to know if I had gotten a daiquiri yet and where. They are serious about their daiquiris. By the third day, I was directing new students and worried mothers all over campus or to the nearest Wal-greens or Whole Foods or daiquiri stand like a good little local…

PS- I thought about this all day. Nine years ago today my aunt was killed in a car accident. It was awful and heartbreaking and felt like, at the time, someone had taken all the color out of the world. Whenever I think of her, besides crepes and laughing and hideous hand-me-down purple zip-up bathing suits, I think of Mr. Gay and what he wrote on a little piece of paper in the guestbook at her funeral: Bonne nuit joli petit oiseau – Goodnight pretty little bird.

Berny hotfingers

While I was in Belize, my greedy little brother pawned all my books.

I didn’t discover the books missing until an hour before my dad’s wedding, which is just like him. He had been MIA for at least a month and had shown up the day of the wedding to get some clothes. It just so happened that my dad had changed the locks that morning, and Brandon all but jumped out of the bushes as soon as we pulled up. He smiled a sparkly smile, raved abut his great new job at the pet store, threw his clothes into a trash bag, gave me a hug, and promised he’d stay in touch.

Twenty minutes later, I found my empty book boxes. My poor, pillaged boxes. Hundreds of books. Gone. I stomped around the apartment screaming about what an idiot he was and threatening to throw him out a two-story window if I ever saw him again. My dad thought I was overreacting until he went to get his camera, which was also missing. It was the camera we bought my dad for Father’s Day—and by “we” I mean “me” since I paid both Ben and Brandon’s share. So, to recap: he stole my books, and then he stole the camera he himself gifted, at my expense.

Had he shown up for the wedding, he would have been uninvited. But that’s what makes him so frustrating. He is so unreliable you can’t even exclude him.

He finally called me about a week ago under the guise of “I heard you had shingles, how are you feeling?” which turned out, in the end, to be “I need a bed can I have yours?”

I told him I was feeling fine, except that I was broke and had to depend on the free clinic to treat my shingles since I have no money and can’t even pawn my own books for prescription drugs.  Then I threw in something about food stamps just to make him feel guilty, and ten minutes later I was fielding calls from various family members alarmed about the food stamps.

“Are you on food stamps?”
“No, who told you that?”
“Brandon.”
“You talked to Brandon? Did he call you or did you call him?”
“He called me.”
“To tell you I was on food stamps?”
“Well, no. He said he was trying to buy dad’s furniture but that you might need the money more than dad. Do you need money?”
“No.”
“Do you need groceries?”
“No. I’m not even on food stamps. I was just trying to make a point.”

“Berny.”
“What?
“Did you tell mom I was on food stamps?”
“Yeah, because she said you might be selling your couches, and I thought you would need the money for groceries. And I need some couches. And a bed.”
“Brandon! I don’t need groceries. I’m not selling my bed. You can’t afford my couches. I just want my books!”

Do you know what he said next? He said, “Brooke. I left your yearbooks.”

As if all other books are merely ornamental.
As if he were a classy enough pawner to leave the things of real value. As if I am not a smart enough sister to understand the translation: “Brooke.  The bookstore didn’t want your yearbooks.”

For the record, the bookstore did not keep a record of books bought. There is no list of books sold. If I want my books back, I have to manually go through the shelves and pick out the ones I think might be mine and then re-buy them. Re-buy them. Hundreds of books. He managed to get my dad’s camera back, though. He originally used it to take out a loan at the pawnshop and then paid the loan and reclaimed the camera. But books? You should see the way they look at me when I whine about the books. Come on, Brooke. It’s not like they’re yearbooks.

Well. Today I bought three books. Now I am the proud owner of three books and 4 yearbooks. If you would like to give me a parting gift for grad school, please buy me a book.

Unrelated: I have a bookshelf for sale

NOLA, be kind to me. I’m new.

This weekend:

  1. My dad is getting married!
  2. I am driving to New Orleans with Sprink & Steph to find out about housing options and eat beignets. We’re doing it in 3 days, start to finish, with gas at $4 a gallon. (Sometimes opportunity does not wait for gas prices to go down.)

It just recently occurred to me that school means, like, class and homework. With all this moving and form-filling and financial aid and immunization records and passport-type photos (Yes, I had to order a set of 2×3 inch wallet prints of my face in order to send one in at the school’s request. Now I have 7 more 2×3 inch pictures of my face lying around), I had forgotten that in the end my prize is, um, school? What the. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really the best student the first time around. My plan this time is to make sure there are no classes after lunch. Or early morning. Or on sunny days. Or, like, during Ellen.

I’ve been wondering about school supplies, too. Do you think the other kids in my class would make fun of me if I showed up to grad school with these? I just really like them. And, according to Will Smith in the 1988 hit Parents Just Don’t Understand: If they’re laughing, I don’t need them cause they’re not good friends.

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And look, the inside looks like wood!
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I know what you’re thinking. I should buy these, and fast!

Okay. Switching gears entirely…
Please view, at your convenience, my latest Brookie & Lil pics. They are nice.

(Bryan. Stop zooming in on my face.)
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You might be tempted to think I look pregnant here. Don’t do it.
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Lily

Hello. I’m new here.

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Lily came!
Obviously, she is adorable.

Essentials:
April 2, 2008
5:30pm
7lb 4oz
19.5 inches

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Everyone is healthy.
Jessie is doing fine.
Lily has been so alert and awake!

Here are some favorite pictures, with excellent commentary.

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Gag me with a spoon.

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I’m thinking of a number between one and ten…

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Sharon, I’m just going to lay this on you gently. You have something in your teeth.

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(Yawning is the cutest)

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Bry & the changing table.

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Me & Lil (I can call her that, you know)

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Grampy Brooksy

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Three generations

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My brother is a dad. Omg.

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Great Grandma- she wants to go by Gigi (as in, G.G.) which is just perfect, don’t you think? She made that up herself.

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The thing to note here is G.G.’s golden shoes in the corner. Cute.

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In other news, my laptop fell off the bed. Consequently, Season 3 Disc 6 of The OC is stuck in the DVD drive. Tomorrow I’ll hand my trusty sidekick over the Mac surgeons and wait for 7-10 days. I’d say you might not hear from me for a while, but I have a knack for finding internet come hell or high water, or even snow in April.

Just in case. I’ll see you in 7-10. Boo.

Week Twelve: SOS

I’m drowning in Fruit Loops and America’s Next Top Model.

It’s killing me, literally. I may have turned diabetic this week for lack of self-control and the abundance of Oreos and Milano cookies. I turned down lunch at the Indian buffet today, because yesterday I ate my weight in cheesy potatoes and didn’t think I could be trusted at a buffet.

Also, I spent 5 hours in the eye-shadow section at Ulta and tried to buy shampoo a few times with a 20% off coupon and finally settled on the Paul Mitchell Color Care line with a buy 2 get 1 free option, but gave up after not being able to pick the third product.

I guess you could say I am overwhelmed with the overabundance of food and hair product options.

After a complete meltdown on Sunday, it took a full 24 hours to figure out what was really going on.

Here it is: There are holes in my life that can’t be filled with Paul Mitchell Color Care Detangling Conditioner or cheesy potatoes, even though I am thankful for those things and love them with all my heart on a normal day.

I have come to the sad realization that we have everything backwards.

I was upset on Sunday because my family jumped through hoops to get to the right church (out of hundreds in the city) at the right time (out of 8 services) to meet my brother and sister-in-law, who didn’t even show up or call to tell us they weren’t coming.

In Santa Familia there is one church with one service, and your brother lives 5 houses down. Not everyone has cars. Most people just walk. And if Antonia doesn’t show up, Father Foley goes to her house for lunch—just to make sure everything is okay. Most people go to church if only to make sure Father Foley doesn’t show up for lunch.

As I settled in on Sunday afternoon with my bag of Oreos and the Disney Channel (don’t judge), I understood that no matter how many cereals I can choose from, or how many Salon Style conditioners I get to use, no matter how great it feels to drive around 8-lane highways in my shiny SUV, passing two malls and 15 Starbucks, I will never have the quality of life I had in the village for those short few months.

My entire family will never live on one street; I’ll never be within walking distance from everyone I’ve ever known; my best friends are not my cousins or my nieces or my back-door neighbors.

Kids there have 15 moms and 15 dads—aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends. It was so cute to watch David’s eight-year-old son curl up in Imanuel or Ricardo’s lap, and to watch Juliet be passed around the church from aunt to aunt to cousin to cousin (though it was sort of embarrassing when she woke up while I was holding her, took one look at me, and wailed like she had been abandoned at the local homeless shelter).

I’ll probably never speak 3 languages or enjoy a fresh orange or a chocolate-chip ice cream cone as meaningfully and effortlessly as I did with Inez and Frances— though my cherished single-dip cones on the curb of Ben & Jerry’s and Baskin Robbins with Bec and Sprinky rival.

But that’s my point. Happy, simple meaningful moments are rare and hard to come by here, which is why they are etched into my memory and logged as happy places for me. It was never about the ice cream (except that one year when they had Chocolate Oddessy 2001). It was 20 uninterrupted minutes on the curb with my good friends.

In the village, moments like that happened all the time. Nobody had anywhere to rush off to. My time there was a thousand simple, meaningful moments strung together into days and weeks. One of my favorite memories will always be that half-an-hour between dusk and total darkness when Inez and I would walk to the shop for an ice cream or a snickers or in search of hard-to-find flour. It was just nice to be with her, and to not have anything else to do but walk around together.

Now I have no choice but to settle for The GAP and America’s Next Top Model in lieu of everything my heart really wants—community, an entire Sunday afternoon with all my friends and family in one place (can you even imagine it—all your best friends and family together in one location, for LIFE?)

My friends and I used to joke about living in a commune.

In the village, they have that. They have community. Not as a concept or a small-group idea. But as their actual life.

We have water, Tyra Banks, paved roads, Fruit Loops and Paul Mitchell.

(And we think we’re the lucky ones.)

I agree: in some ways, we’re privileged. I feel blessed to live where I live with the opportunities that have been given to me. Even after village life, I don’t feel guilty for loving Target. Or TV. Or the mall. But more than privileged, I would argue that, mostly, we’re distracted. And I sort of feel sorry for us. I think we are distracted in order to not be depressed.

For example. On Sunday, when family plans fell through, I got my tall-nonfat-sugar-free-caramel-macchiato, sat down with a handful of Oreos and the Disney Channel (don’t judge), periodically checked my Macbook for emails, and when there were no emails, I downloaded new songs on iTunes.

So I enjoyed a day of first world conveniences. But only as a filler for what I really wanted, which was to hang out with my brother, or chat with friends, or, in the deepest part of my heart, be celebrating Easter with everyone in Santa Familia.

Moments:

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“Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.”

For Good
Steven Schwartz

Week Eleven: Home

I’ve been asking myself all week why we put ourselves through the pain and agony of good relationships. I mean, there are always goodbyes. I knew that going into this. I just didn’t remember it being this hard. Or depressing.

I’m home.
Ahem. I mean, I’m home!

Timeline:
School dismissed on Thursday for a two-week Easter Break.
Antonia left on Friday to present her Thesis in Canada.
Frances and Inez left on Saturday to spend Easter in Gualtemala.
The Cabbs leave next week for Houston.

After a long delay in Miami and an unexpected (but provisional) overnight in Chicago, I arrived in Indianapolis on Friday safe, sound & exhausted.

The first thing I did when I got home: put on my skinny jeans.
They fit!
(One more amoeba, and I think I could enter the world of singe-digit sizes. Note for next time. Two amoebas- good. THREE amoebas, size 8.)

My arrival was two weeks earlier than planned, so I surprised my family at my sister-in-law’s baby shower on Saturday. Here is documentation of the magical moment.

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This is my grandma. After the picture was taken, she cried and stroked my face through the entire prayer, and then she had to sit down. Sprinky not only laughed at her, but laughed at her DURING the prayer. Then I laughed at Sprinky laughing at her, and, well, you know how laughing and praying goes…

Lisa & McKenzie were at the airport to pick me up, along with my dad and his fiancé—wiggedy-what? Rewind. Fiancé. Yes, my dad is getting MARRIED. He met someone while I was in Belize, and she happens to be just perfect for him.

Upon further investigation, I am happy to report: I approve (and not just because she reads my blog or drove me to Martinsville today to pick up my car). She maintained a perfectly respectable distance while I bawled my eyes out and made a fool of myself in the middle of the airport, then offered a sympathetic hug for the entire situation: the crying, the never-having-met, the jet lag, the Chicago ordeal and arrivals in general, because, as it happens, she is a nurse and makes several medical mission trips a year for weeks and months at a time. She understood.

Besides, she loves my dad. He loves her. I’m cool with it. The only question is which dress I should wear in the wedding. He told me I could pick anything, which was thrilling for me. I am stuck between these two dresses. Your vote would help.

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Moving on.

I was able to attend the CFI board meeting on Friday night and surprised half the board members, which was fun. I fully intended to speak words of wisdom about the trip, but every time it was my turn, I just started crying. I guess that’s just how “goodbyes” followed by “hellos” are— our absolute lowest and highest moments all in the same breath.

Considering the debriefing period of the next few weeks and my transition back to Fort Wayne, I feel sort of stuck in Week Eleven and truly believe I could be happy living Week Eleven in the comfy bed at my dad’s house for the rest of my life.

After all, I have Trix & internet.

But, alas. I don’t know how to thank all of you for supporting this adventure, which turned out to be the most fun, challenging and meaningful time of my life, and for walking alongside me in the last 6 months. Your contributions, comments, cards, packages, emails and phone calls have been essential to this season of my life, and the lives of countless kids and families in Belize.

From the deepest part of my heart, thank you.

Many people have asked what’s next. I’ve been wondering that too.
I’ll be in Indianapolis for the next few weeks, and back to Fort Wayne in April for the summer. I just accepted the scholarship to Tulane ($9000!) and am working on finding housing for August.

Many people have asked how I’m doing. I’ve been wondering that too.
Let me put it this way. I burst into tears today at a traffic cop who told me to stop. I’m not sure what that means.

But I do know that I miss my Belize family (more than words) and I hate the weather here. I love driving, and I love the mall. I love Starbucks and I love bug-free sleeping.

I miss eating fresh oranges and walking from store to store with Inez looking for flour or choco-bananas. I miss the teachers and the pace of life there. I miss having a purpose.

But CFI has done a great job of providing a period of debriefing, lots of opportunities for me to “unload” and relax, and have helped in every possible, thoughtful way with re-entry. What they don’t know is that someone in Fort Wayne will have to debrief me from Lisa and Denise in a few weeks. I feel like a suction cup that just can’t let go, like I’ll die when I’m not somehow connected to CFI or Belize…

I am looking forward to meeting Lily (my niece) any day now and looking forward to time with friends in the Fort.

Other than that, I’m still working things out. Just know that if we run into each other and I burst into tears, its not you.

Here are some other pictures of the shower and the first time I got to feel Lily kick! (Note, in the shower pics, my awesomely awesome skirt from Guatemala)

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The afterparty

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Also, here are some answers from the report I sent back to CFI during my last week of service. They are the same questions many of you have been asking and might be of interest, especially to those who supported:

Regarding the purpose of the mission, what was the most rewarding part of the experience?

The most rewarding part was watching the kids become excited and participate with enthusiasm on a daily basis, their ongoing retention and application of concepts, and, ultimately, the increase in knowledge as reflected during post-test activities. (And I’m talking about little things here, like how they were able to give the definitions of empathy, toxic, abstinence—words they didn’t know before I came; the ability to list 5 different ways to say ‘no’, for example, or 3 ways they can calm down during an argument and then apply it all in role-play situations.)

Regarding the purpose of the mission, what was the most challenging part of the experience?

The most challenging part was adapting the program to fit different age groups and grades within one classroom, or within one session. For example, in any given class, you might have a kid who is 8 and also a kid who is 12. It was hard to figure out how to organize the sessions.

What was the greatest reward personally and overall?

The greatest reward personally and over all has been the relationships built with the students, with the Flowers and Cabb families and the slow inclusion of me into daily village life—that I can walk down the street now and almost everyone runs to the door yells, “Hi Miss Brooke!” instead of “gringa!”

What was the most challenging aspect personally and overall?

The most challenging aspects personally and overall have been bugs, sickness, dealing with water & electric outages, the laundry routine—general aspects of day-to-day life. I had more than a few showdowns with giant spiders, ants, no water when I really want to brush my teeth, etc. The illnesses were challenging, but manageable.

Knowing CFI is educationally focused, what do you see to be the most critical need at Santa Familia School and at San Marcos School?

The most critical need at Santa Familia: ink for the printer, internet at school, art supplies and art lesson ideas for each age group, PE equipment and outdoor PE activity ideas for each age group.
San Marcos: water system, art supplies & activities, David insists he needs an SUV. Exciting sidenote, San Marcos village was in the process of getting electricity the week I left. The poles were up along the main road and all the kids were asking me about TV with glowing eyes.

Was there anything regarding the purpose of the mission that you felt you were not able to achieve? If so, what?

I was not able to complete the second week of programming for 2 classes at Santa Familia school due to illness.

What did you miss most?

Tall nonfat sugar free Caramel Macciato
Oh, and friends and fam, of course.

Would you consider doing this again?

Absolutely. This was one of the best experiences of my life.
I wish I could do it again right now. Hopefully, November…

We are having a celebration on March 30th (and no, I did not throw my own welcome home party- it was thrown for me) but please come if you are in town. I would love to celebrate and share pictures and stories with you who have been so supportive during this time. Besides, it’s a great excuse to get together!

(Email me for directions.)