miércoles, 1 de octubre de 2014

Fiesta time!

September was the month of fiestas.  Guatemala celebrated its independence day, and the country bled blue and white.  School came second to party preparations, dance practice, parades, bursts of pride "Viva Guatemala!" and listening to the 7 minute long national anthem ringing through the air.  I absolutely love watching people when they are passionate about something, and this whole month I have gotten to soak up and basque in the joy of seeing bone-deep passion.  Students competed in gymnastics and dance competitions, celebrated their heritage through indigenous dance, and recited patriotic poetry. 

To finish off the month of celebration, today - October 1st - was Dia Del Niño!  I think they are on to something here.  A day dedicated to the soul purpose of celebrating the heck out of kiddos?  I definitely want that in my childhood. When I told my dad about this brilliant day, he said, "That's basically what life is.  Birthdays and Easter and Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. .. it's always about the kids!"  Point taken.  But, as someone who has still yet to grow up, I vote for more party days! 
Today was totally loco, and full of laughter.  Kids were running and screaming everywhere, hyped up on sugar and ice cream and toys.  We all dressed up as mini mouse, and played and danced like fun was going out of style.  It's back to a heavy load of work tomorrow.  I already miss the month of crazy nonsensical partying.  Maybe I'll just keep my mini mouse ears on while I work. . . .
 Puro Guatemalteco
I got my gymnastics on during the teacher performance

Kindergarten gymnasts
 Kids waiting their turn during a dance competition

Our roof cat, Luna Lovegood, birthed kittens!  That was definitely a party to watch. 

 Dia Del Niño!

sábado, 20 de septiembre de 2014

The Guest House

The Guest House: By Rumi
This BEING human is a guest house, every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!  
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, 
Who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, 
Still, treat each guest honorably. 
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, 
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes, 
Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

The house-wrecking sorrows and the paralyzing depressions. . . those house guests are very loud and very persistent down here in La Esperanza.  They stand on your doorstep, screaming and banging until you let them in.  When I was here 8 weeks ago, every day was a struggle.  I cried often, swore always, and lived under Eyeore’s rain cloud.  In preparing to come back, I worked my ponpones off to be in a centered, zen state.  And I’m so amazed at how much a little perspective and a few deep breaths has kept my feet planted firmly on the ground.  There is still the same tornado happening around me – kids are malnourished, gunshots ring out (in fact, a gunshot came through the school building during one night, and went through two walls), all of the kids and teachers and volunteers demand nearly every minute of my every day, and the program has a continually growing to-do list.  But, within all that, I still have carved out a few minutes of sacred time, where I meditate and sing and dance and practice a little gratitude.  Of course I still get sad, and frustrated, and soul achy.  My stomach hurts when I see the gunshot hole in the wall. But I know that those fear emotions won’t consume me.  I know that I can let them in to my guest house, feel the emotion deep in my bones, and then I take a deep breath and then do a silly dance.  Or I run outside and play jump rope, or find a hug, or ask my brother for a joke. 

My English team right now consists of 1 teacher who has been here for a year, 2 that have been here for 3 months, and 2 that are brand new.  I was planning on jumping back in with both feet to work on curriculum and behavior management tips and tricks and other teachery stuff I assumed the teachers needed (this is all their first time teaching).  But what I found, was an INTENSE need for connection, creativity, and vulnerability.  One of my new teachers is terrified being here – of the community and the classroom. Another teacher is angry and exhausted.  One teacher has not connected well with the others, and another was feeling so many emotions she was crumbling inside. There was no feeling of community among my group of teachers, but lots of feelings of frustration, confusion, anxiety, depression and discontent.  So, I threw my plans out the window, and have been knee deep in creative facilitation research. 

In the last two weeks, we have become poets, artists and actors.  We have played and laughed and danced and cried together.  We have pushed through the fear of judgment and comparison, and shared incredibly vulnerable things about ourselves and our experiences here.  We have found new respect for each other through the sharing process of our creativity.  We have connected with each other, through understanding that we each experience the intense emotional dichotomy of life here - “It’s not just me!” is such a liberating realization. We still have a long way to go.  Every week I have planned a different creative workshop – each one asking us to step out of our comfort zones, be creative, and be vulnerable.  We will practice self-compassion, meditation, gratitude and a drum circle. 

I have absolutely fallen in love with this process!  I am so grateful that I have the honest empathy to facilitate this for these women.  I have been in each of their shoes before.  I have experienced the unbearable rage at the injustices here, the deep depression that kept me glued to the couch, the soul aches of missing home, the heart wrenching sorrow of hearing and seeing death, the confusion, disbelief, horror and despair.   This time around, thanks to my conscious decision to stay grounded, and the open doors of my guest house, I am able to help them in the middle of their tornado.  We’ve only had three workshops so far, but they have blown me away.  When people are courageous enough to be vulnerable, it gives me piel de gallina and tears in my eyes.  It gives me such respect for that person, makes me notice their radiating beauty, and reminds me of our shared humanity.  

My collage from one of our workshops, showing the dichotomy of emotions

martes, 2 de septiembre de 2014

Back to Guate with some love in my back pocket

I have a self-diagnosed "savior-complex."  It's this urgent, incessant, nagging need to help people.  I always think I can fix people, their problems, their stress. I rarely focus on my own life, and put all my energy toward others - in sometimes helpful ways, and sometimes "Hey, you don't know my life better than me and I don't need fixing" kind of ways. I'm working on finding a balance, while simultaneously fighting the need to fly around the world with my super-heroine jet-pack, sprinkling joy, education and safety on the masses.  I'm trying to teach that naggy fix-it all chica in my brain to chill and meditate more.  And sometimes I give her a cerveza to calm down. 

When I went to Guatemala, I was fulfilling one of my decade long needs of getting out there and trying on my dream job for size. Turns out - it doesn't fit all that well.  This realization has slowly been sinking in for 5 months, over the course of myriad emotions and experiences.  And it hasn't been the easiest of realizations. 

I have been madly in love with my experience there and the amazing kiddos and women I get to spend time with. I also have been incredibly depressed and paralyzed by the intense emotional roller coaster, doing nothing but sitting immobile on the couch.  I have had anxiety attacks over the responsibility of holding a child's future in my hands and from hearing the nightly chorus of gunshots that ring out.  

When I came back for my few week stay back home, I realized I probably have a mild form of PTSD.  I have seen one too many dead bodies.  Heard 1,000 too many gunshots.  Held way too many crying women and children.  In addition to all that trauma I'm trying to process, I also am understanding that I can't save the world.  I never ACTUALLY thought I would save the whole world, or even Guatemala.  But there is that part of me that thought I could surely make some kinda difference.  When I wrote my last blog post, I was feeling on edge from some of the truths I was wrestling with.  People asked me what difference I was making, what things I was doing to change the broken systems, and what I was accomplishing.  I was feeling very raw about the thought that I wasn't making ANY difference, and those questions were pushing the exact button I was trying to ignore.  It's definitely my default to just say "You wouldn't understand!" rather than figure out what is triggering me.  

Someone asked me recently why I choose to do my humanitarian work overseas, and not in my backyard.  There is equal need, no doubt.  Usually, I get defensive to this question - not wanting to seem like I was ignorant or uncaring to the problems we have here.  But, in a moment of clarity, I answered truthfully.  I choose to work abroad because I have a love affair with Latino culture.  The language is challenging and fun.  I love the way Latinos wear their emotions on their sleeve - they are all in.  The passionate crying and anger and laughter gives me (with my emotions tightly bottled up in) the permission to be honest and open with my feelings.  Human contact is NORMAL and expected - hugs and kisses all around!  Strangers will take care of me at the drop of the hat.  Family is priority number one, and members fiercely protect each other.  I love waking up to the sound of roosters and hearing the accordion music blasting at top volume.  The tortillas and community and love are what draws me overseas.  I know that I'll come back and do work here, but for now - over the border is where my heart is being pulled.  

Here's the thing.  It has been really hard in Guatemala.  It has been a tough experience full of so much learning and love and heartache.  I've been working hard these last few weeks to come to a space of peace with heading back.  I am so excited to see my friends and family again.  I can't wait to hear all the street noises and laughter and music.  I'm excited to see my rascal students and be swarmed with hugs and kisses. At the same time, I got very emotional boarding the plane last night.  I started to cry unexpectedly, as I felt the fear of returning to the death and pain and malnutrition and gangs.  But, I also feel prepared.  I know what I'm getting myself into this time.  And I am realistic about my role there.  As one of the dad's in La Esperanza told me "Courtney, even if you don't see it, you are making a difference.  The time you spend with my sons means so much to them and to us. You show them so much love."  

I can't change the flawed school system.  I can't fix the number of young boys flowing into the gangs at age 13.  I can't even convince the women of my co-op to find trustworthy men to serve as mentors to the boys (one of my original goals 7 months ago).  I can't stop the cycle of violence in this community that I adore.  Surprise, surprise.  I can't fix. . . I can just love.  I am headed back to Guatemala knowing that I will still do my work and plant the seeds of hope and change and consciousness that get me fired up.. .  .knowing that no matter the result, the biggest thing I am doing for this community is loving them. As a white person, and an outsider, it's not my place to come in to fix and change.  It's my place to listen, learn and share.  And when the sky is dark, and my super jet-pack runs out of fuel, and when the gunshots are too loud for me to hear my own heart beat. . . I will rely on that love to keep me centered and grounded.  

martes, 5 de agosto de 2014

The Sacred Moments

I've been back stateside for nearly 2 weeks now, and I'm still struggling to feel comfortable in the rhythm of life here.  Don't get me wrong.  I greatly appreciate the peaceful sunny days, the awesome love from all the people I've missed, the freedom to sleep in and the ability to flush my toilet paper.  But I'm just feeling a little out of step.

The reason I've always kept a blog of my travels is to mediate the coming home process. I write a blog because I want to share with you what I'm up to, but I also write it because it's too huge of a task for me to come back and describe 7 months of life in one conversation.   It's always overwhelming for me to come home from a trip and have dozens of different people asking me questions about my experience.

I come from a family of story tellers.  Our family gatherings are characterized by sitting around and popcorn story telling.  One person's story reminds somebody else of a story and so on down the line for hours.  I love this about my family.  I have stories for days, and if I can grab your attention long enough, you're bound to hear a handful of them.  I am a total story teller.   

But there's something sacred about travel for me.  There's something un-tell-able about my experiences in other countries.  It's not the sight seeing or tourist attractions or the exotic crystal blue water I might have swam in that mean anything to me.  Those stories are easy to tell.  "I went to this town, ate this food, saw this building, got the t-shirt."  It's the stories that are hard to tell, the moments that are impossible to capture in words or pictures that make my travel experiences important.  The stories people share with me, the hugs, the laughter, the tears. Those are the memories that I hold sacred in my heart, those are the memories I want to share with you, and those are the memories that are precisely impossible to describe. 

In telling you my stories, I also run the risk of digging deep and sharing one of those sacred moments, and have you twist it and turn it and steal it. This happens often.  Never intentionally, and always out of love and interest. But it still happens just the same. 

I might have a beautiful moment to share about a sweet child I've fallen in love with.  And then you ask me about the parents and the poverty and the immigration crisis and "What are you going to do to change what's happening?"  All good questions.  All important questions.  But all I wanted to do, was bring you into that moment to see if you could catch a glimpse of its joy and love - and now I am racking my brain for answers and reliving hurtful, hateful realities of life in my slum.  I don't have many answers.  Mostly I just have moments.  

Don't let that stop you from wondering and asking.  Just know that if I retreat, or stop you, it's not because I think any less of you or your interrogation skills.  It's because I'm probably experiencing stimulus overload, and we're getting too close to those sacred memories that I want to keep just for me.  And if I'm at a loss for words, just know that it's because I can't quite figure out how to describe the healing power of my house mom's smile or the soothing pat-pat rhythm of tortillas being made up and down the street or the exhaustion of feeling powerless to change the story of violence or the intense heartache of looking straight into a mother's eyes after she has lost a child.  

In coming back, I've found I'm a lot quieter than I was 7 months ago.  Life in La Esperanza is very hectic.  It's nearly impossible to catch a minute alone.  Sometimes I'm able to find an abandoned stairwell to hide in, but it only lasts a few precious minutes before a volunteer needs my help or a cat yells at me for attention.  I learned recently that being introverted means that you draw your energy from within yourself, not from being around others.  That's definitely me. I need time to myself to recharge my batteries, and I haven't been alone in 7 months.  So, my batteries have basically exploded.  Right now, I'm finding more peace in listening to stories than sharing them.  When social ettiqutte threatens to demand that I share my un-tell-able moments, I get emotional and my brain starts short circuiting.  

I really do want to tell you everything.  But how can I explain certain things when our frames of reference are so different?  How can I say that I feel overwhelmed by this overly full fridge with food that is rotting when my fridge back in Esperanza has only 1 tomato in it?  How can I tell you that this drama you've wrapped yourself in over your sister not understanding you seems pointless when I've heard the screams of someone standing over their murdered sister?  How can I tell you that I feel uncomfortable with the comments you make about immigration from the safety of your home, when I live in the middle of the gang violence that is driving kids north?  I don't want to offend you or make your reality seem less important.  Because it's not.  I'm just jumping from one extreme to the other, and I haven't acclimated yet.  Jet lag, if you will. My frame of reference has been shaken up and spit out in a very different place from where I started. 

Life changes you.  This experience has changed me.  I can feel the DNA shift in my blood.  I know that I'll bounce back.  Not to where I was - but to wherever my new normal will land me. 

That was the very long, story-telly way of letting you know that one day - maybe tomorrow over coffee or maybe in 3 months at Thanksgiving - I will tell you about my time in Guatemala.  But until then, I appreciate your patience.  I am grateful for you allowing me the silence, for not pummeling me with questions when I tear up randomly at dinner, and for respecting the moments that I choose to keep sacred.  

Here's a few pictures from the last 7 months.  No big stories attached, just little moments that made me smile. 

martes, 29 de julio de 2014

A little bit o' history

So now that I am home for a few weeks - I finally have the chance to take a deep breath. . . and write more blog posts!  I've had a stock pile of things I've wanted to talk about, but between all the curriculum that needed writing and the women with stories to tell and the kids to be played with and the tortillas to be eaten, I just didn't have time.

First on the list. . . . the very uplifting topic of genocide.  Did you know that there was a genocide in Guatemala in the 80s and 90s?  I didn't until a friend handed me a book that I read on my way down, and was surprised and horrified by the things the country I was about to call home had been through.

I have been known, a time or two, to blindly jump into things.  This has driven everyone in my life crazy.  I hear a good idea, and I'm in.  Once in the Dominican Republic, a bus driver told me I should come stay at his house for 3 nights.  I thought approximately 5 seconds and decided it was a good idea - clearly. That turned out to be my favorite travel memory ever!  Rocking chair mornings on the porch with his wife, swimming hole afternoons with his daughter, and late evening strolls through pig farms to chomp on sugar cane and hack down coconuts with my "body guard" - the 75 year old neighbor.

When I found the job in Guatemala, I saw "Women's Co-op" and "Teacher" and said "Si!"  Sign me up.  On my way to Guatemala, I realized I didn't actually know much about where I was going.  I had blind faith that it was the organization I hoped it was, but told some friends it might be possible that I was headed straight into the sex trade.  They were on the lookout for SOS messages from me.  But, my disregard for common sense safety measures aside, learning the history about a place is actually super important.  I tend to do it upon arrival.  Had I learned more about Guatemala before arriving, I would have been a little quicker in understanding the power and significance of the community I live in.

On my flight home last week, I sat next to a pleasantly chatty guy who filled up 4 hours of flying with conversation.  At one point he asked me what the reasoning was for the genocide in Guatemala.  I responded, "What is ever the driving force behind genocide? Hate."  He told me that was the easy response, and proceeded to tell me the history of genocide in the bible, and we together relived the holocaust.  So, while I still believe that hate and fear are the underlying reasons for any killing, I will opt for the more winded task of telling you a bit more.

Civil war in Guatemala had been present since the 60s, with people protesting the usual political, social and economic injustices.  In the 70s, indigenous Mayan groups became louder with their protests, wanting equality and language and cultural inclusion in educational and governmental institutions.  As guerilla groups banded and fought the fights that guerillas tend to do, the government feared a communist coup.  Because guerilla groups were generally made up of the indigenous Mayan people fighting for their rights, the government began going after any and all indigenous Mayans.  The repression and killings began first in the highlands of Guatemala, in the beautiful, green-rich highlands that are prime for guerilla base camps.  The killing spree led people to flee to other parts of the country, and up into Mexico. A 1999 UN report of the civil war said, 'The Army's perception of Mayan communities as natural allies of the guerrillas contributed to increasing and aggravating the human rights violations perpetrated against them, demonstrating an aggressive racist component of extreme cruelty that led to extermination en masse of defenceless Mayan communities, including children, women and the elderly, through methods whose cruelty has outraged the moral conscience of the civilised world.'

Over the course of the many years the government was enacting these fear based atrocities, some horrible statistics racked up.

-626 villages were attacked
-Over 200,000 people were killed or disappeared
-150,000 people sought refuge in Mexico
-1.5 million people were displaced

My community of La Esperanza is a community that grew out of those displaced souls.  It started as a squatter community where people came to hide, survive, and wait.  Esperanza is one of my favorite words, and I love that this community is named "Hope."  Every women has amazing and heartbreaking stories about their journey to live in hope.  Cristi's parents were both murdered after neighbors ratted on them for potentially corresponding with the guerillas.  Angela's family lived out of a box for their first few months in the community.  Genocide is a horrible, hateful, fearful tragedy.  But an important history to know about the lives of the people I am living with.  Note to self: be a little less ignorant, and a little more researchy before jumping headfirst somewhere in the world.

My family and friends in La Esperanza never cease to amaze me.  Their fight, their grit, their ability to stand after the waves of heartache that have knocked them down.  Their love and hope inspire and humble me on the daily.

sábado, 26 de julio de 2014

Courtney Bailon-Perez

My last weekend in Guatemala has been my favorite in the last 7 months.  My good friend Deborah and I decided to treat our family to a peaceful weekend getaway.  Our family has been through a lot in the last month.  Between losing 3 family members to gang violence, having a son go missing in the states, financial trouble at work and gang extortion making its way into our neighborhood. . . . it's been 3 too many visits to the cemetery and far too many tears shed.  Living in our house, it's impossible to escape the nightly reminders of pain - with the gunshots and screams and staring at the empty bed where someone should be sleeping.  

Friday after work, we packed 10 of us up and headed out on an adventure that took us up into the mountains above a town called Antigua.  The drive up alone filled my heart with so much joy that our time could have ended then and I would have been happy.  Many of the family members had never even been out of Guatemala City, so our 4 hour journey was huge.  It was dark when we were headed up the mountain, an amazing lightening storm lit up the sky, and we could see the whole town below.  We stopped 3 times for everyone to take pictures, and as I taught them about making wishes on stars, Sara said, "This is a vacation we will never forget."  

We arrived to a delicious dinner waiting for us, and Angela said such a beautiful prayer, thanking God for bringing her 2 daughters to help heal her heart, that Deborah and I were full of tears. We had 3 cabins all to ourselves, with hammocks that looked over the side of the mountain. The only snafu of the whole weekend was when I accidentally walked up to the wrong cabin, and surprised a couple having sex.  I unfortunately made dead on eye contact with the guy and screamed, and then avoided him like the plague for the next 2 days (unfortunately he was the cabin next to ours, so there were MANY opportunities for us to see each other).

We spent all day Saturday playing corn hole, soccer and badminton.  We ran and laughed, and took naps in hammocks and enjoyed the beautiful volcanoes.  I taught the kids how to build a fire, and we used the sauna.  Half of our group were so terrified that they would get cooked in the sauna, that they just stood outside while we went in, ready to save us . . .  just in case.  It was so refreshing to have the kids away from the TV, out of the sadness of our routine life in the slum - and seeing them play their hearts out for 2 days straight.  The adults breathed deep sighs of peace for the first time in a month.  

On our last night, just before dinner, they had a surprise for me.  Everyone had made me cards, and while we sat around drinking mango cocktails, everyone made a speech about me. I love this family so much, that my heart hurts and my eyes get teary and I wonder how on earth I will ever leave them. They called me their daughter and sister, and little Steven who I love most of all, told me "Now you are Courtney Bailon-Perez."  Officially part of the family. 

We headed down to Antigua the next day for mass at the cathedral, and time hanging out in the park to see all the fun touristy things.  Silver robot statues that terrified 2 year old Layser, hair beading, hoards of white people, live music and a book fair.  Everyone had the best time, and it makes me so happy that we could give them those beautiful, smiley moments together with the gift of space from their sadness.  

domingo, 6 de julio de 2014

Continuing the Roller Coaster

The last two weeks have felt like an eternity!  Probably the longest two weeks of my life. 

Catholic tradition following a death here in Guatemala is as follows:
-Having the body in the house for 2 full days, with people coming in and out to mourn and pray and share food
-On the 3rd day, there is a funeral for the burial
-Each evening on the following 10 days is spent doing a rosary prayer service
-On the 11th day, everyone heads to the cemetery to give flowers and last prayers.

It is a long grieving process.  I sway between thinking it's beautiful to be honoring the dead for so many days, and feeling exhausted of being sad.  Every prayer service is full of tears and tight hugs and a heavy sense of loss.  The hardest part for me is free prayer time at the end, where everyone stands up and shouts their prayers to the world.  The sound of all that sadness and hope being cried into the air reverberates in my lungs and makes me feel as if all the woes of the world are inside my chest, ready to explode. Seeing my little buddy Steven's 7 year-old eyes full of tears and anger every day during these services is an image I know will stay with me forever.   I am there every day, for all the tears and cups of coffee and prayers to support my family - but the gigantic achy hole in my heart is just so exhausted of being sad.  

The day that the shooting tragedy happened, my new teachers arrived.  So between the rosaries and flower buying and funeral attending, I also ran a training all week.  I felt like a newscaster.  One minute experiencing an intensely sorrowful, heart wrenching pain . ..  and the next, plastering on a smile to inject passion and inspiration into the new blood of UPAVIM.

My birthday quietly passed during that week as well.  We were invited to an Indigenous Mayan village where we learned a Mayan religious ceremony, ran around with chickens, and tasted incredibly potent homemade wine. The journey there and back took 7 hours. It was actually a lovely day, but I found myself just wanting to be back in La Esperanza - where I could play with kids and chisme with my favorite women and get my fill of birthday hugs.  When we returned at 9 pm - even though it was past our curfew of when it's safe to be outside - I stomped through the community and knocked on doors, asking for birthday hugs.  When I knocked on Dona Dina's house and told her I needed a birthday hug, she yelled into the house and immediately 11 people came filing out of the house to give me hugs.   Probably the silliest, selfish birthday thing I've done - but I just needed it.

What else has happened here in my new 29th year?  School started back up and I got my fill of hugs and kisses and love.  I found that I even missed their shouting and climbing over the tables and throwing their food, which tells me I'm getting used to life here.  Sadly this week, my house mom lost another family member to gang vioence, and the community lost 2 more boys that night. In the span of 2 weeks, Angela lost 2 nephews and a cousin, and the week continued with more wakes and rosaries and funerals - today another 2 men were killed, and I unfortunately saw one of the dead bodies as it was carried away. So many life changing images on the reel of my experience here.

One of the most precious women had her baby!  And she is a beautiful bundle of joy and hope.  One of my teachers was bit by a dog, and has had to get a series of injections to prevent rabies (News caster face - and happy, and sad, and happy and sad).  I got my first round of head lice.  And by round, I mean infestation.  Two rounds of medicine, three sessions of people picking at my head like monkeys, and a week of lice shampoo still hasn't killed it all.  Nothing like a week long fight with head lice to keep you real good and humble. In the last two weeks I have become obsessed - for the first time in my life! - with a televised sport.  El Mundial. . . me encanta!  I have craned my neck to peer through windows to watch games, screamed and hugged random strangers over goals, pretended to be Messi from Argentina as I'm playing in the street, and during one game yesterday when I couldn't find a TV- I even went online to read the minute by minute play-by-play. I did a world flag unit with my kiddos and we made really cool soccer ball art.

Today I visited the cemetery with my family, and it was the first day in two weeks that felt light on the heart. With the sun shining and wind blowing, we put flowers on the graves and sat around laughing and taking deep breaths - the first sound of laughter in 14 days, and it has been the best sound of my life.  Back home, my bestest friend here had her birthday - and I channeled my dad's party planning magic to throw her a themed party around her favorite movie. . . Frozen. Snowflakes, crowns and capes and snowman building contests.  It was a really wonderful day at the end of a really hard 2 weeks, refreshingly full of laughter and WAY too much candy.  Just what el doctor ordered.