A third of the way through our Southwest road trip, Christmas Eve found us in Artesia, NM – a small town that owes its name to a long ago depleted artesian aquifer and whose present existence is supported mainly by oil and gas refineries. A ghost town under ordinary circumstances, Artesia seemed doubly so as we navigated its deserted, halogen-lit streets. Even grocery stores were closed on account of the approaching holiday. The neon billboards of fast food restaurants, which remained stubbornly open, provided the only sign of life as night approached. We had stocked up on groceries before our arrival and hunkered down in our inn with a board game to while away the evening.
Posts tagged ‘holiday’
Munchkin’s rapid descent into superhero obsession took us a bit by surprise. We consciously limit his screen time at home, but parental controls are no match for playground fads. As soon as Munchkin entered pre-K in the fall, his fealty to Paw Patrol and P.J. Masks was overcome by an overwhelming interest in Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and the like. At the library, he would pick out simple comic books for beginner readers; superhero-themed clothing began to multiply in his wardrobe; and the Disney/Pixar films D would sometimes watch with him on the weekends gave way to comic book-inspired cartoons.
Growing up, there is no question that the winter holidays were our favorite: Hanukkah for S, New Year’s for D. Sweets, festive decorations, and lots of presents – it’s easy to win a kid’s heart over with these. Now that we have children of our own, we’ve come to appreciate other holidays a lot more. Any holiday that gives us a three-day weekend is to be celebrated, but the ones, like this past Veterans Day, when we get the day off from work while schools remain open feel particularly valuable. Of the holidays we miss being stateside the most, Thanksgiving tops the list: there is simply no substitute for family and home-cooked, traditional meals when one is serving overseas.
The tendency when one is serving overseas is to use each posting as a springboard to explore the region, to travel around the continent one calls home for a few years. In Africa, this strategy hits two snags. First, the continent is immense. Second, with the exception of a handful of hubs, intercontinental flights are unreliable and expensive. Serving in eastern Africa, for example, South Africa was accessible but the countries of the Maghreb not at all.
We hit the sweet spot with last year’s Halloween celebration. Munchkin was obsessed with The Three Little Pigs for most of the year. Dressing up as the little pigs to his bad wolf was an easy win, and the wolf costume S’s mom made for him got plenty of use before and after the holiday. This year, Munchkin’s tastes have evolved too fast to keep pace.
With Labor Day approaching, we initially planned to take advantage of our first long weekend in DC to go hiking in Shenandoah National Park. Given the 100-degree heat this past week, however, we’ve thought better of it. Hiking, as we discovered to our chagrin a couple of months ago, is not Munchkin’s strong suit anyway.
After our hike in the Sawtooth Wilderness, which proved a little more hardcore than perhaps was advisable, we enjoyed a rest day in Sun Valley. It was the Fourth of July – a rare opportunity to celebrate this most American of holidays on American soil, only the third time we have been able to do so (out of eight potential Independence Day celebrations) since D joined the State Department.
As with our previous trips out West, one of the biggest highlights of exploring the great American wild is the opportunity to get up close and personal with the wild animals that call it home. We saw plenty of mule deer, prongorn, and smaller animals (rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks), and quite a few of the woods’ larger mammals. S and Junebug even had a terrifyingly close encounter with a bear.
Mauritius is a fascinating place. Successive occupation by first the Dutch, then the French, and finally the British have forged a multi-religious, multi-ethnic nation that is Africa’s most densely populated. [With twelve million people crammed into a country the size of Maryland, Rwanda – where we live – is the most densely populated nation on the African continent. At 640 inhabitants per square kilometer, Mauritius is 40% more densely populated!] Rwanda definitely feels crowded, so it was quite a trip to visit an even smaller, even more densely populated nation.
South Africa’s coastline is beautiful but wild, with rip currents rendering many of the most scenic beaches too dangerous for young swimmers. This is why we decided to end our R&R trip with a stop in Mauritius – a week of pure relaxation after two weeks of road-tripping around South Africa during which we covered more than 2,200 kilometers.