This Is Why You’re Not Getting a Christmas Card From Us This Year (or maybe ever again)

6 12 2012

No More Christmas Cards explains how we came to our decision to NOT send Christmas cards this year.

So, the winner of what would have been our Christmas money was Safe Haven Family Shelter, by almost a 3-1 vote.  I was introduced to Safe Haven almost two years ago, and since then, both Caleb and Jason have joined me on various occasions to help provide dinner for the residents.

Besides the money issue, the other reason you are not getting a Christmas card from us is because this is it!  SURPRISE dear readers!  We’re going all-digital this year.

Many of you keep up with us via Facebook anyway, so you already know our year in review.  For those who don’t, here you go:

The Huddleston 2012 Year in Review

Matthew continues to teach physics and launch high altitude balloons at Trevecca Nazarene University.  He loves his job, and even took on the challenge of hosting a national high altitude balloon conference at TNU in June.

He finished his first (and possibly, probably, hopefully last) full marathon in April.  His goal was an ambitious 4:00, but he made it around 4:25.  This is incredibly impressive considering he only “trained” once each week . . . most of the time.

He has also completed several mud runs, the latest rage in running races around the country.  Now that he’s in a new age bracket, he will probably start placing and winning some nice prizes.

On a heavier note, Matthew’s dad, Mark, was diagnosed with colon cancer in October.  He had surgery just a few days after.  The doctors thought they got all of the cancer, but subsequent tests showed a spot on a lymph node.  He is currently undergoing chemo therapy once every two weeks for six months.  His doctors remain very optimistic, but we’d still appreciate your prayers for complete healing and for strength and endurance for Mark and Martha during this time.

Kelly (me) continues to teach technology and journalism/graphic design at Franklin Road Academy.  I also love my job.  I did NOT do a ½ (or full) marathon this year, and I feel great!  Triathlons are my new thing (My First Triathlon).  Having successfully finished three of them, I can no longer qualify for placings in the Beginner category.  However, being really a really weak swimmer, mediocre bicyclist, and slow runner, I wouldn’t qualify for placings in any category anyway.  Maybe when I’m 80 and still doing triathlons will I win something.

Gourmet cupcakes are my newest indulgence so if you are ever looking for a gift . . .  (I also love chocolate and a good extra sharp cheddar cheese.)  However, I really need to be eating more fruit and vegetables, so a membership in some sort of fruit-of-the-month club would be a better gift.

Matthew and Kelly’s (our) international trip this year took us to Nicaragua in July.  We met another one of the kids we sponsor through Compassion International.  Always an eye-opening, life-changing event, you can read about it here:  Open My Eyes.  You can also read about the amazing amount of fun hell we had as we hiked a volcano on Ometepe Island.

Next year’s trip is another once-in-a-lifetime trip:  india!  For three weeks we will traverse a good chunk of the country in June.  The first 10 days or so will be spent in Chennai and traveling up the Indian Ocean coast of south eastern India, mainly to visit two more kids they sponsor through Compassion International (link) as well as spend some time with a friend who pastors a church in a small village there.  During the second half of the trip, we will get to play tourist:  visit the Taj Mahal, ride elephants and camels in the dessert, visit Agra, Jaipur, New Delhi, and take a boat tour along the Ganges River in Varanasi, the heart of the Hindu culture.  Expect great blog posts to come from this adventure.

Other big news for 2012 included placing membership in a new church, Priest Lake Christian Fellowship.  Our former home church group, the Gathering, fizzled out as families found new churches around the Nashville area, so we started looking, too.  Being less than a mile from our home was a great benefit, but the people were the main draw.  We have never been to a more humble church where the Holy Spirit is so alive and thriving among its members.  It’s inspiring and challenging and moving each week.

Caleb is in fourth grade at Franklin Road Academy and continues to love school and excel in his academics.  To brag on this child for a moment, he has yet to receive a B in any term grade since he started PK.  He’s got his Daddy’s brains and aptitude for math and building things.  Caleb continues to love all things Star Wars, but his Pokemon obsession (thank goodness!) has come to an end.  If you know of anyone interested in buying a 700+ card Pokemon collection, please let us know.

Caleb’s newest obsession is legos.  The kid lives and breathes legos, which we are fine with.  He actually builds some really cool things, like a working flashlight—complete with an on/off lever and working bulb.

Caleb is also learning to play the recorder and trumpet, and we (as in Kelly) are trying desperately (and futilely) to get him to sing “This Song is Just Six Words Long” by Weird Al Yankovic in the Fourth Grade Variety Show in January.  Weird Al is another recent obsession of Caleb’s, and being the cool parents we are, for his birthday we bought him tickets to see Weird Al in concert in April when he comes to Nashville.

Caleb is a Webelo scout this year, and is a popcorn selling machine!  He sold over $1500 to win first place again in his cub scout pack.  He won an archery set, 8% of his total sales in cash, a $50 Walmart gift card, an LED head lamp, a patch, Predators’ tickets, and a trophy.  (Don’t get me started on winning trophies for something like selling popcorn.  Let’s just say, I’m not a fan of the practice.)

Caleb’s most exciting adventure this year, though, was his ER trip that led to a hospital stay for a couple of days at the end of August for pneumonia.  Despite this bump in the road, we are still tremendously blessed.  His asthma and allergies have plagued him something fierce this fall, much worse than normal.  We have an appointment with an asthma/allergy specialist next week so we are praying for something to help manage this better.

Jason started preK at FRA this year, and is loving it.  Being the second child, we did not work with him on things like the alphabet, drawing, writing, or reading much (hardly at all) before he started school.  Thankfully, the kid has a mind like a sponge and is taking off in the writing and reading department.  He also loves to draw.

Jason, too, is obsessed with Star Wars and legos.  At three he could recite entire scenes from Star Wars.  I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed by this.  Did I mention he was three at the time?  The kid can build lego creations with the best of them . . . well, maybe not a working flashlight yet, but he can build really cool spaceships, race cars, jails, mouse traps, and monsters.

Jason and Caleb took their first official swimming lessons this summer.  Lesson 1 involved Jason crying and screaming for the full 45 minute session.  He had snot running out of both nostrils to his belly button when I picked him up.  He only cried for about 15 minutes of lesson 2, and by lesson 3 he was actually excited to go.  Now, of course, the kid is terrified to put his head in the water, which reminds Kelly of herself as a child forced to take swimming lessons.

Packer, our dog, continues to love to eat anything that falls on the floor including baby spit-up (true story) as well as grass to later make herself throw-up said baby spit-up.  She loves to sleep during the day and wake us up around 4:00 a.m. to pee and play.

Finley Bubbles the VIII, our beta fish, didn’t last the year.  At this time, we are uncertain if we will buy Finley Bubbles the IX.

Hopes and prayers for 2013:

  • Good health for everyone
  • A safe and amazing trip to India
  • Jobs we love
  • Caleb and Jason would continue to grow and mature in their faith, following Christ
  • Matthew and Kelly possibly beginning a new Marriage Builders home church group
  • Kelly hopes to begin working on her MBA at Trevecca in the fall

As we reflect back and look forward, may we always remember WHY we celebrate.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
-John 1:14

Love and prayers to all,
the Huddleston Family

PS.  If any of you find yourselves in Nashville and need a place to stay, we’ve got plenty of room and love house guests.


Hiking Volcan Concepcion

24 07 2012

This is the second of three posts about my recent travels to Nicaragua.  The first was about visiting a child we sponsor through Compassion International:  Open My Eyes.

Volcan Concepcion (1 mile high)

Volcan Concepcion (1 mile high)

I have run three half-marathons, two Ragnar Relays, done four triathlons, hiked the Grand Canyon in one day and the Inca Trail, and have given birth twice without drugs.  “Hiking” Volcan Concepcion on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua was by far the most grueling and physically challenging activity I’ve even done.  It was actually referred to as a “tour” in the printed literature from our travel agent.  Tour is much too gentle a word to describe what we did.  So is hike.  I enjoy hiking, but I did not enjoy this.The hike/tour, or as I like to call it, the ascent to Hell, began at 6:00 a.m. and consisted of a 3.5 mile trail with a 1 mile vertical ascent.  We had two tour guides, and two other American med school students, Angelica and Chase, joined us.  The normal completion time is 10 hours—five up and five down.

It began easy enough traveling on a dirt road through a plantain plantation, but that lasted all of .10 miles before it started getting hard.  After about ½ hour on the trail, our little group paused for a break.  We were all sweating and breathing hard, and us Americans were commenting on how difficult it was already.  Our main guide, Naphtali, chuckled quietly before telling us that the difficult part had not begun yet.

The deceptively easy part of the trail.  It lasted all of 10 minutes.

The deceptively easy part of the trail. It lasted all of 10 minutes.

Another ½ hour later, Angelica was cussing to herself and her boyfriend, and I silently agreed with everything she said.  At this point I overhead her tell her boyfriend that this was way more difficult than the Tough Mudder. 

Sidenote:  The Tough Mudder is a race I was recently introduced to and one that I want to attempt in May 2013 in Nashville.  It consists of a 12-14 mile trail run with 20-25 obstacles interspersed.  Obstacles include cargo net climbs, balance beam challenges, rock wall climbing, jumping off small cliffs, and crawling across a mud pit with live electric wires hanging down and shocking you as go.  And people spray water on the wires to give you even more bang for your buck.  I’m not sure that is legal, but the Tough Mudder series has been around for a while.  Anyway, I thought the Tough Mudder would be the apogee of my physical training.  But according to Angelica who had recently completed a Tough Mudder, the Tough Mudder was easier than what we were currently doing.  Nice.  It actually made me feel better about the Tough Mudder, but not about the climb we were currently doing.

Sorry for the butt shot, but this shows the steepness of the trail.

Sorry for the butt shot, but this shows the steepness of the trail.

All the way up, I was worrying about the way down.  Hiking implies you stay upright and use your feet to get you from point A to point B.  In most regular hiking, going down is easier than going up.  Neither was the case.  This was the most technical hike/climb/ascent to Hell I’ve ever done.  A good percentage of the time we were using our hands to climb up rocks—the kind of climbing where you have to pause and feel around to where your finger and foot holds will be to get you up that next six inches.At one point we climbed through a lava canal.  This was the route lava flowed down the volcano during the last eruption in March 2010.  So how was climbing over volcanic rock, you ask?  I can’t repeat what was going through my head, but to put it mildly, it was not fun.  At all.  I wanted to die.  Or at least turn around.  But I am not a quitter so onward we trudged. 

This area of the trail, the lava canal, was over loose lava rocks.  The slope was over a 45 degree angle.

This area of the trail, the lava canal, was over loose lava rocks. The slope was over a 45 degree angle.

And we weren’t even to the half-way point yet.  So, so depressing was that thought.

We climbed through a cloud forest for a good deal of the hike.  If you’ve never been in the middle of a cloud, it’s very damp.  And dark.  And windy.  And chilly.  That combination as I traversed wet, slippery rocks at a 45+ degree angle brought out a lot of prayers.

A typical prayer went like this:  I cussed first, but that was followed immediately with, “Dear Lord.  I’m sorry.  I don’t want to use those words.  I also don’t want to die.  Please help me not die.”  I was completely serious.  I also prayed over and over for our safety and health.  I prayed there would be no injuries.  I prayed I wouldn’t start or be in an avalanche.  I prayed for my strength and energy to hold out till I could collapse—on my bed and not on a large boulder of lava that would impale me.  I think my favorite prayer was asking God to give me feet steady and sure like those of a deer on the side of a mountain.  However, no deer would be stupid enough to try to climb this thing.

This shows the angle of our climb at the top.  Notice how all the rock is loose and unstable.

This shows the angle of our climb at the top. Notice how all the rock is loose and unstable.

Nearing the summit, the wind and moisture became ridiculous.  The big boulders that offered some stability were long gone and were replaced with loose lava rocks ranging in size from gravel to watermelon.  Did I mention it was all loose?  And wet due to the fact that we were in the middle of a cloud.  Volcan Concepcion is an active volcano so add in sulphur smoke fumaroles to the mix for a delicious atmosphere and breathing experience.  Notice I did not say “breathtaking” experience.We finally made it to the top, and the view was . . . stunning?  Gorgeous?  Amazing?  Nope, nope, and nope.  There was no view except cloud and rock.  We couldn’t see more than 20’ in any direction.  I guess being on the literal edge of an active volcano was cool, but it would have been nice to have an amazing view to go along with all of our hard work.  Or at least half of our hard work.  We still had to get down.

Did you notice the spectacular view from the summit?  Neither did we.

Did you notice the spectacular view from the summit? Neither did we.

Everything was completely soaked, and the wind was incredible.  I remember thinking about movies of people who climb Mt. Everest.  At Base Camp, they always show people in the tents and the wind is roaring outside.  That’s how it felt.  We were all scared to stand and even our guide—who is the king of the mountain and my new hero—didn’t recommend it.  This, of course, meant that my dear husband was off and walking around peering over the edge.  I had to close my eyes to him and pray.

Our guide told us that Catholic priests from the 1800’s who came to colonize the island believed that a volcano was the gateway to hell.  Before the island became predominantly Catholic, the natives would offer sacrifices to the volcano.  Both Chase and I offered ourselves as sacrifices at the top.  Sadly for us, this volcano only accepted thin, young, virgin girls as sacrifices.

My gimpy hand.  Thank God for duct tape!

My gimpy hand. Thank God for duct tape!

We only stayed at the crater for a few minutes.  We were all eager to get back to flat terrain.  About four feet from the top—remember it was all loose lava rocks—I slipped and started a mini-avalanche.  Reaching out for anything to slow my descent, I grabbed a larger rock.  Said rock, too, was loose so I let go.  My hand slipped below me, and said rock came crashing down on the palm of my left hand leaving a deep gash.  The blood started flowing, but there was nothing that could be done until we got to more stable ground.  Yay me!  I would have to make my descent with one good hand.  Going up with two working hands was hard enough.  Going down with one was going to (insert unrepeatable words here) stink.  Once we made it down to an area we could stand on safely, we put a tissue on my gash, and our guide wrapped it with duct tape. Now I have to share about the awesomeness that is Naphtali, our guide.  He is 38, likes to run, and does this volcano trek 1-3 times each week.  His fastest time was two hours up, two-and-a-half down.  He is a trained EMT and has carried people down this volcano.  Let me repeat:  He carried another person.  On his back.  Down this trail.  I couldn’t carry myself up and down it very well, but Napthali can do it with another human on his back.  He was going to compete in a salsa dance completion that same night before heading out for another trek the next day.

Naphtali - pure awesomeness in another human I have not seen.

Naphtali – pure awesomeness in another human I have not seen.

At a rest stop, we asked, foolishly, what the most common dangers were of this trek.  I was thinking it was twisted ankles or even a broken leg.  Only two weeks prior, Naphtali shared, he fell asleep at the same place we were currently resting.  He woke up to a coral snake (poisonous) attached to his arm.  What do you do when you are two hours from the nearest medical help?  Naphtali had to go old-school with his treatment:  he made a tourniquet, sliced his arm around the bite, and sucked out the blood.  His only other option was to die, which he also shared happened to a German tourist not too long ago.  “Ten minutes, and he was dead,” said Naphtali.  I should add that there is no way a horse or donkey could do this trail to transport people.  Severe injuries require a helicopter drop; there is nowhere safe a helicopter can land anywhere on the volcano.

Due to my gimp hand and having no energy, I butt-scooted most of the way down.  It was slow, but steady.   I asked Naphtali to duct tape my other hand to offer a little more protection against the jagged rocks.  At least twice on the descent I averted mental breakdown despite my rapidly increasing physical breakdown.  Those two times when I felt the tears coming on and my throat tightening, I was able to pray and do some mental cheerleading to get out of the funk. 

Smiling for the camera, a little over half-way down.

Smiling for the camera, a little over half-way down.  I’m only smiling on the outside.

Half-way down the clouds started to clear and finally gave us an amazing view.  However, the thought that we were only half-way down was really, really overwhelming.

Half-way down the clouds started to clear and finally gave us an amazing view. However, the thought that we were only half-way down was really, really overwhelming.  The other volcano was smaller than the one we were on.

The third time was the charm, so the saying goes.  I sat down on one big boulder about 3 feet high, strategically placed my hands to lower myself down, and then I made my mistake.  I looked up.  I looked ahead, and what I saw did me in.  I couldn’t handle what I saw—more of the same big rocks, loose rocks, sharp and jagged rocks—and I lost what little emotional stability I had left.  The tears flowed, and I just sat there.  I couldn’t even tell you what was going through my mind at that point.  I just cried.

I only smiled on the outside.  This is how I really felt.  (But isn't the view incredible?)

I only smiled on the outside. This is how I really felt. (But isn’t the view incredible?)  This was actually before my final breakdown.

I’m not sure how long I sat there as I was the last in line.  At some point, Matthew must have noticed my absence, and I heard him walking back to me.  This is where I get to tell you what an incredible husband I have.  Very gently he said, “You can do this.  Let me help you.  You can lean on me as much as you need to.”  I thought Jesus himself had spoken those words.  They were the energy I needed to continue.

I wasn’t in pain, as you might have thought.  (That came the next day.)  I simply had no energy left.  Each step I took made my legs wobble and my knees buckle.  I didn’t trust that I could take another step without collapsing.  If you’ve ever seen a baby taking his first rickety steps on legs with barely enough muscle to hold up his weight, that’s how I felt.  And I still had 2-3 hours to go before reaching the end.

Back to my incredible soul mate.  Matthew was perfect.  With each step down, he would hold out his arm and let me lean on him with as much force as I needed.  He would tell me in advance where each rock was, where there was tree trunk or branch I could use for extra support.  He even put up with my quiet cusses and negative comments without any kind of reprimand.  I’m not proud of what came out of my mouth at times, but Matthew handled me with grace and tenderness.

Almost 12 hours from when we began, we finally made it to the end.  Our host at the plantain farm we were staying at met us with his truck.  I got the coveted middle seat in the front while everyone else who was not a physical gimp sat in the open bed of the truck.  It was pleasant inside the truck, but once we got out at the plantation, I immediately began shivering violently, and then it hit me why I had been so miserable for most of this trek.  I didn’t not have enough calories (energy) for my body to work properly.  The night before I had chicken and vegetable soup, but barely ate half of it as I just wasn’t hungry.  Breakfast that morning was maybe 300 calories, and while on the trail for 12 hours of difficult climbing, we had been given only some granola and a sandwich for lunch.  We also had two small candybars we consumed, but all in all, I had not nearly enough calories to see me through the day.  Afterwards, I didn’t have enough energy in my body to keep myself warm.  Despite my feelings of being really hungry, I couldn’t keep food down for the next 48 hours.

On the ferry back to the mainland the day after the "hike."  How much fun can one person have?

On the ferry back to the mainland the day after the “hike.” How much fun can one person have?

When all was said and done and I’ve had some time to think back on this experience, this was one of those things I wish I had never done.  I can’t think of any other physical challenge where that is the case, but this volcano beat me to a pulp.  There are only two things for which I am thankful:   1) living through it, and 2) experiencing the sweetness that is my husband.