Theatrical Street Performances

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The images that I captured from the festivals over the weekend are not everything that I was hoping for. The event was beautiful and captivating, but I simply was not prepared for the shooting conditions. I can’t help it but to explain that I am just a novice at photography and I still have so, so much to learn. Action and low light conditions are not something I have much experience with, and certainly not in combination. But, I am now more determined than ever to learn the techniques.

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This is a slideshow I created of the performers from the evening event. There was a beautiful blend of modern dance, traditional dance, and cultural music.The mood was different than the last street festival we attended, and I came to understand why. Most of these performers were not local and had traveled great distances to be here. In addition, it was the first time they had performed on the street. The dancers typically perform in a theatrical setting. So, it’s completely understandable why their nerves and giggles were hard to contain.They were just nervous! For us, the combination of professionalism and naivete were charming. We enjoyed every moment of their performances as well as the “behind the scenes” antics we were so fortunate to see.

132  062 055 200    The Fire Dance was one of our favorite performers, amazing that she never got scorched.                                                                                                                                                                 108

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Exploring a Secret Beach on Ecuador’s Central Coast

La Boca is a place just a few miles south of where we live in San Clemente, Ecuador. We love to take a journey to this little secret beach that lies in the crook of the San Jacinto River and the Pacific Ocean. While only miles away, we feel like we have been transported to another world. These sandy shores snuggle up right against a mangrove forest, that lends home to thousands of shorebirds, including a large number of the Great White Egret.

We typically seek out this beach at low tide, when the swirling river and ocean tides leave behind a moon-like landscape and water filled jumping craters. We love to hop across these tiny temporary islands, pretending like we are astronauts jumping on the moon. And when we come across an ideal tide pool, we huddle in together to bask in  nature’s hot tubs. Once we are refreshed, we go on a shell and creature hunt, to see who can find the best sea treasures.

It’s easy to lose track of time in this masterpiece of sea and sand, and it’s essential to bring water and a snack to survive an afternoon in the area’s forgotten beach. Part of the charm, are the relative lack of tourists, vendors, restaurants, and vehicles. Although there are a select few desirable homes in the area, and the occasional ice cream man; one can not be guaranteed any respite from the blistering sun.

Due to it’s remote area and unique mix of sea and salt water, some interesting observations and dwellers can be found here, not excluding a few rare and coveted large seashells.

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Rippled Sand and Tide Pools at The Boca Beach.
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Hopping on the “Moon”.
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Exploring the Tide Pools
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The kids admiring a Great White Egret up close.
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The Mangrove Forest and a bamboo hut for bird watching.
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An out of place Autumn leaf brought in by the sea. The sparkling black swirled  cocoa colored sand.
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It’s no problem to bring the whole family along, toddlers and pup alike!
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The winner of the beach find: A mostly intact, ripe coconut…”Mom, Can we eat this?!”

The Softer Side of Bullfighting

After six months of traipsing through the crushed shell beaches of Manabi, we decided it was high time to a catch a glimpse of life above sea level. We packed up the bikinis and board shorts to trade them in for dusty, creased jeans and our favorite leather boots.  We tossed our kids, and our bags into the back of a Jeep and said goodbye to the sun kissed streets of San Clemente. It was quite a journey up the mountains, to get from the rolling sea to 12,000 feet; high above the colonial city of Quito. We lazily climbed through the quiet villages and snaking roads, peering out the windows in awe of waterfalls and landslides that dot the jungled mountainside.

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Our daughter loving her warm outerlayers of fuzzy  Alpaca wool gear.

We stopped at the indigenous artisanal market in the capitol city, to gear up for life in the Antisana volcanic region. Our final destination would be at home on the range, in the El Quinto ranchlands. Up there the air is clear and the atmosphere serene, but the UV rays and wind are unforgiving, in this country close to the sun. Surprisingly, it doesn’t snow, but the fickle weather means preparing for three seasons in a moment’s notice. As is true of anywhere in Ecuador, the only way to survive is to dress in layers. And so we did, dress ourselves with the Chagras in mind. The Chagras are the cattlemen of the Andes, and the Antisanas, too. The high altitude cowboys have learned to live and love the elements after centuries in the thin air countryside. There was nothing else to do but to take our ques from the experienced roamers, and to load up on many layers of alpaca wool clothing made by the indigenous.

It was a strange thing to us, to buy heavy socks and scarves, and stocking hats too, but to completely dismiss the need for a heavy winter coat. With raised eyebrows in doubt, we exited the marketplace with our cold weather accessories and thick, hooded sweaters for our trip to the heights.  Just a few moments beyond the outskirts of the city of two and half a million people, civilization quickly gave way to rolling landscapes and cobblestone streets.

Quiet came over us as we were engulfed by a new kind of beauty, a different angle on the splendor of Ecuador. The pollution of lights and sound drifted behind us and we were instantly transported to life in a different place and time. The highlands were draped in a quilt of farmlands and lovely dirt roads, speckled with livestock; divine running, horses and broad, Brahma bulls.

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The tail end of a genuine bull run!

Just before we tumbled up to the gates of the ranch, our guide pulled his truck to the side of the narrow, bumpy lane, and dared us to peer over the barbed wire fence. The doors of our 4X4 creaked open and we peered down from the sky, over mountains and valleys of lava rock; strange alien-like deposits from the Antisana some thousand years ago. As we pondered a time when the angry innards of the earth exploded over the lands, we bumped along the rural acres home to the grasslands that house the herds we came to see. The hundred heads that live here are shrouded in history and culture, and most recently in debate and controversy. This ranch is home to the breeders and bloodline of the Spanish fighting bull, a tradition five hundred years deep in Ecuador.

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Views of the El Quinto Ranch. Over 2,000 acres of roaming lands are home to the bulls.

 

We came to see and be seen, by the angry, adrenaline filled, fighting bull. The Roman family breeders have been in business for 40 years, with three living generations still practicing the art of capote and muleta passing. But, here, heritage is not required, and anyone can learn the honor of bullfighting, as taught by the ranch’s team of toreros, otherwise known as bullfighters.

My husband for one; took up on the adventure, in a quest to understand and immerse in the culture of bullfighting. Carlos was invited to participate in the training of the bullfighters and the bravery testing of a bull. In this practice, the bulls are not injured or killed, but rather they were enticed to show the signs of nobility, valor, and might, requirements for breeding the fighting bulls. The bulls that show the right stuff are further prepared for passing on their bloodline, but those that lack in the desired attributes are returned to a life of grazing and lazing in the Andes sun.

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Practice makes perfect, before taming the bull!

Early in the afternoon, the trainers and participants gathered in the wide circle of the bull ring to practice the graceful sweeps of their capes. The kids and I tucked ourselves into the sun drenched strands of knee high hay, growing between the faded red slats of the wooden corral. We basked in the scent of evergreens and eucalyptus as we savored the hugs of our fuzzy, wool sweaters. It was a little piece of heaven, to peek at our father and husband through the blades of the countryside as he danced with his borrowed moleta. Without the presence of the not-yet-summoned bull, we were free to imagine the animal’s place in the ring, and to gaze at the empty stands above our heads.

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The kids waiting in the bleachers, to see their first Bull Fight.

Not too long later, we left our huddle to find a place in the bleachers, where the midday rays blasted us with their presence. We couldn’t get rid of our jackets and mittens fast enough, tossing them in the dust beneath our boots as the show began. Our four year old daughter crouched beneath the front barrier, peering between the cracks in the boards. She was desperate to watch, but overcome by trepidation as the wild bull frantically rooting around in the field below. Our younger son fell silent as he peaked from behind my shoulders.

The small crowd of onlookers bustled around to get the best view and out of the sudden heat. A few poured some liquor, as the celebratory event commenced, and others passed around bags of candy as if celebrating at a holiday party.

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My husband (in the middle) and two other bullfighters, safe from the bull from behind the burladero.

With our eyes to the participants, we watched as the bullfighters glided into the ring, one by one. Most took their places behind the burladero, a guarding wall at the edges of the ring that offers protection from the bull. And finally the first one was chosen to begin the taunting of the bull. He took his turn, showed his tricks, and flapped the cape from to the side, above the bull’s head, and then behind his hips again.

And then one after the other, the trainees took their turns, stepping in and out as instructed, some succeeding and some struggling to present their old or newfound expertise.  I have no place to critique, as a first time viewer, safe in my seat; but I’m sure of one thing, it took a certain dose of bravery for any of them to put themselves in front of a bull.

Though there were a few close calls, most of the interactions were little more than near encounters between man and monster. But, near the middle of the show, there was an occurrence when the bull mastered the taunting man; sending him clear to the ground. The seconds felt like hours as the bullfighters emerged from every corner of the ring, flapping their capotes to distract the angered animal from the downed participant.

I snapped out of my stupor, to grab my camera, preparing to shoot my first tragedy.  Just as I focused my lens, I caught sight of my husband… racing front and center, his first time in front of the bull. I bit my lip as I waited, hoping the worst wouldn’t happen. I envisioned scenes not from the present, but of men getting gored from movies on TV. Luckily nothing like that happened, and the bull trotted off in the opposite direction, leaving my husband and the others the chance to escape to the other end.

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One man down, but rescued by the antics of the others. My Husband (in the white shirt) puts himself right in the sights of the bull!!

But, it wasn’t over yet. The bull snorted and kicked and tried to get at them from behind their safety net. He ran a couple of laps before simmering down, and then the games resumed. Apparently he was deemed mad enough, as the cowboys removed him from the ring, excusing him for the remainder of the fights.

A second bull came in, and much of the same repeated, each of the men taking turns testing the temperament of the fresh, horned animal.  I saw from the sidelines, my husband removing his leather Andes hat and laying it to the side. I knew it was his time, as he slid from behind the burladero, creeping gracefully into the sights of the bull. He whipped his muleta around, flashing the blood red color, while enticing the animal to come a little closer. I was startled by its reaction, barreling through the cape, and getting a little too close for comfort. I cringed as I eyed the horns, watching them narrowly pass by the jeaned thighs of my husband.

But, Carlos was quick on his feet, and the kids cheered Daddy on, as he escaped danger time and time again. Then, just as quick as it began, it was over, and my hubby exited the performance, unscathed by the experience. Head held high, he looked up at me and nodded with his best Marlboro man wink as he stepped out of view.

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I couldn’t resist getting this shot of my Marbloro Man.

The sun shrugged off its warmth shortly after, but long before darkness fell over the ranch. We pulled the wool back up over our ears, as we trudged up the hill and past the pastures. In the evening hours, we sat around the wood burning fireplace in cow hide chairs, tossing around stories about the excitement of the day. We sipped coffee and cocoa as we admired the posters on the walls, those that told the tales of bullfighters and matadors from the decades before. The kids laughed and squealed with echoes through the old, brick walls.

Just as all cowboys must do, we finally retreated for the night, to a corner room far from the heat. We giggled as we breathed the cool, mountain air from the nostrils of our sun burnt noses.

The kids scurried across the cold, tiled floor and into a bed, fitted with nearly ten piled blankets. We doubled our socks and pulled our sweaters over our jammies, before digging our toes under the heavy, wool layers.

As the softness of the night came over the room, I listened to the calm, shallow breathing of slumbering children. I heard a couple of thuds from the outer walls of our room, and peered into the dark trying to make sense of it. From the un-curtained panes, I saw the moon glowing across the mane of the mare that sleeps behind the house.  She pushed her nose against the glass and left steam on the window, before turning in dismissal with a clop clop on the dirt.

I couldn’t help but wonder if her rider normally slept there, but was absent that night. I asked my husband if he agreed, but the only response was silence, as all of my cowboys had fallen asleep. I imagined living there, and leaving a bale of hale at the foot of the bed, of opening the window to let the horse stick her snout in.

Eventually I drifted off too, reminiscing on day one of the best vacation that had ever been.

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A stunning mare taking in the views from the mountainside.

 

 

 

 

Entranced by the Rio Muchacho

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The kids running barefoot just like the other ranch kids.

Our Visit to a Sustainable Organic Ranch on Ecuador’s Central Coast.

When our family looks for day trips and travel excursions, we do so with two young children in mind. Our children are small, just 2 and 4 years old.  Family-friendly activities are important for the pleasure of each of us, yet we strive to find unique and adventurous attractions. Life in Ecuador is a bit different in terms of tourism resources. Unless you want to hit the big tourist traps, there are not a lot of resources for off the beaten path type destinations. The locations are certainly here, but it takes a lot of digging and prodding, and reliance on locals to find out about lesser-known locales.

**The rest of this post has not been moved to our new blog site, please continue reading it there. So sorry for this minor inconvenience as we move blog locations to better support our growth. Thank you for being one of loyal readers!

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https://8duffels2mutts.com/2016/09/12/entranced-by-the-rio-muchacho/

 

 

 

Reflections: Half a Year Abroad

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A mirror image of the sun, on the beach of San Clemente, Manabi, Ecuador.
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A row of painted bamboo huts just outside of San Clemente, Manabi, Ecuador. They serve as restaurants on the weekends.
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Fishing boats on the beach at high tide in San Clemente, Manabi, Ecuador.

We recently surpassed our 6 month anniversary as “Expats” to Ecuador. Sometimes people ask us, if it is what we thought it would be. To be completely honest, I really didn’t have too many expectations or thoughts on what I thought living in different country would be like. I was mainly focusing on arriving and surviving that initial culture shock that I was sure was inevitable. That first month here, was no doubt terrifying, and culture shock is definitely a very, real thing. The rest of the time has just been a whirlwind, as we moved from place to place, scraped through a lot of illness, and of course survived an earthquake. The earthquake was a remarkable event to say the least, but I’m certain that the soul reaching effects that it had on us, would have been the same if we had experienced in anywhere in the world at any time in our lives. We have mostly moved on from that, although we still experience the rattle of aftershocks, at least once every few weeks. They are normal now, and usually warrant little more reaction, than as if we were in a severe thunderstorm warning back in The States.
Material life, possessions, and modern life are definitely the biggest changes. But, it’s interesting how after just a few shorts months, the importance of those conveniences have little bearing on our existence. After the initial startle of life without things that we think we need, it’s incredible to realize how much we don’t need them at all. In the first weeks and months, it felt a lot like being transported back in time, and we had to go through some mental evaluations of our own to understand what we do and do not need. Life felt very old-fashioned and it took a few tricks of the brain to learn to cope with the things we could no longer expect, after leaving a more modern life behind. I suppose the quickest way to come to terms with these elements of life, is to simply not have them. At first it seemed like, every time I turned around, there was something I wanted or needed, and couldn’t find it. Sometimes we just didn’t know where to look, and other times, they just weren’t available. Other times we have found a desired item, only to realize that the price was so exorbitant that it was not reasonable to pay. The funny part is that now, just six months later, I can’t even remember what any of those so-called necessities were.
At the place we live now, we do have a very basic and somewhat primitive washing machine, but no dryer and no dishwasher. We do not have hot running water; we only receive hot water through the shower that is heated by propane. In our village, there are not any modern grocery stores, only small shops, most of which only have enough refrigeration to cool beverages. Milk, eggs, butter, and the like are not kept cold here, and are bought straight off the shelf at room temperature. We are not able to just walk in and grab a pound of hamburger or package of pork shops. Meat must be ordered, and usually takes a few days or even a week to get it. But, it comes straight from the source, never refrigerated or frozen, and usually just processed before it arrives at our door. We can find basic produce anywhere in town at any time, we just simply take a stroll to hunt down the produce truck. Many of the shops also carry the very basic produce for cooking needs, like onions, potatoes, and carrots. But, for the most part, we just wait until Thursday..or Friday..or Saturday, for when our regular produce truck decides makes a stop on our street.
Social life is vastly different for the kids and I, as we still struggle with the language, which is indeed a huge barrier to making friendships. But, we keep trying, although the process is much slower than I would like. Despite this, it feels like we’ve settled in now, and I’m hopeful that the simple calming of our spirits through a time of such great change, will be the trick to absorbing the language. The relative social isolation has been a great thing for us in reality, and has only brought our family closer than before. We have bonded in ways that I am eternally grateful for, and I’m confident that it is a long-term benefit.
So, with a few minor or perhaps major adjustments, life continues on just as life does in any other corner of the world. The seasons change, the kids grow, we do the laundry and clean the bathrooms, just like we always did before. We still run to the market at the last second for milk, or bread, or rice. Sometimes we get bored, grumble about the weather, and wonder why our house is always a mess. We struggle with outings due to our dogs, and are constantly trying to figure out how to do anything with them…and without them. Most of the time we just wing it, and they are not problem anywhere we go, as long it’s an outdoors excursion. Sometimes they get in dog fights, or disappear for a while, but they always come back, and no harm is done. They even go with us to restaurants a lot, because most of them have outdoor seating, and no seems to mind.
So, we are still us, the same hillbilly folks that got married in the mud in Iowa, but a bit improved I think. 😀

 

A featured article for the  Daily Photo Challenge: Mirror

Fun! Down by the banks of the sea..

A few weeks ago we discovered a new area of beach at the far end of our village. This place is called “Punta Bikini” or Bikini Point. The remote beach is home to the only dry sand in our village, is overlooked by stunning cliffs, and provides endless FUN on the steep banks that drop into the sea.

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Sliding down the banks
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Flying high above the banks
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Running down the banks
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Overlooking the banks

 

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Thrilled to be at the banks again

 

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No fear of heights with a soft landing

 

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Creating their own sand bank and fighting over it

 

A Portrait of my Love

A portrait of my husband,Carlos, in the middle of this crazy journey we call life. We were mid way between what would become our trek from California to Ecuador, living in a beautiful and rural area of Iowa. We had no idea what the future held, but knew that it was irrelevant. Our happiness lies in our hearts. As long as we were together, with our two wild kids, anything was possible. Nothing has changed. And here we are, half way around the world. Deeper in love than ever before, and as fulfilled with life as anyone can hope to be. I’m one of the lucky ones, who had the chance to find my soul mate. This is one of my favorite photos of him, as I can see it in his eyes, that he is looking at me. I  can see the love there, that I get to see every single day.

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An entry for the Daily Post Discover Challenge: Portrait.

 

Capturing the Color

  004004 One of my favorite things about Ecuador is the color. This is a world full of fresh color in contrast with an old, distressed society. There is something so special about the natural aged look of everything. All that is old has been loved and revived time and time again. I miss painting furniture a lot when I see these incredible scuffed and chipped doors. It brings such immense inspiration to me, to see so much of what I tried to create. But this is a waste-not, want-not culture, and there is no hope of finding these type of furniture rescue projects. All citizens are artists here. They hold a natural sense of recreation and do not hesitate to use what is old, over and over again. 018
I am an artist at heart I guess, and can’t seem to help myself from capturing the beauty of what my eyes decipher every day.. in some way. So… I accidentally came to realize that these incredible pieces of living art are the perfect backdrop for stunning photography. I may just start carrying the camera everywhere! Enjoy these wonderful photos that I have been collecting of our vibrant children.               
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A Surprise Holiday!

13319693_760710544066028_6753044040100077252_nJune 3, 2016.

On Wednesday, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that it was “National Day of the Children”, here in Ecuador!
We took a bumpy open air taxi to the other side of town and arrived at the local fire station.
It was supposed to begin at 2 pm and we were few minutes early… well, let’s say we’ll never do that again, arrive early that is! 🙂

We struggled to keep our kids occupied while we waited well over an hour before the first activity began. All of the other Ecuadorian kids.. seemed to be completely fine and entertained with sitting in a plastic chair. We need to adapt to these type of situations and learn to just relax and embrace this lifestyle. Maybe it’s time to recognize that events start an hour past the posted time.
Our 2-year-old, Monkey, was happy to provide a little entertainment to the growing crowd. He hopped and danced near the front, without fear or shyness, clapped and squealed with delight over balloons and smiling faces.13315588_760710520732697_9044500252627978309_n He flirted with the girls and grabbed the hands of the boys, and had a merry old-time with nothing more than the wiles of himself. None the less, he exhausted all of his energies before the dawn of the event.. and crashed into a sleepless lump on Daddy’s lap, just minutes before the official ascent of the fiesta.13344692_760710650732684_503525980726734096_n
Once the festivities began, it was nothing but good old-fashioned fun. Baskets of candy were passed around the crowd of children, much like an offering plate that is passed around the congregation of a church in small town USA.
A clown hopped around, singing, dancing and teasing the children. Games were organized near the center of the crowd. The youngsters scrambled to the clearing for their chance to be picked for participation in musical chairs, a dancing game, and an activity where the kids had to balance an egg on a spoon hanging from their mouth. 13339655_760710577399358_271076627522107275_n
Our daughter, Peanut, begged for us to catapult her through the crowd to be first in line for any activity. She was delighted to have been chosen for the dancing contest. In this particular activity, 5 or 6 girls were chosen to stand in a line on top of their own newspaper. They were instructed to dance, without falling off the paper until the music stopped. Any child that let their feet touch the dirt was eliminated.

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In each subsequent round, the newspaper was then folded in half to give each girl less of a platform. This group of girls ranged in age between approximately 3 and 8. We were so impressed by our daughter’s enthusiasm and immersion into the event. We have to assume that she did not understand much of what was being said or sang, but it was irrelevant to her delight. My husband, Carlos, did translate the instructions to her. She seemed perfectly willing to listen to his translations, and yet seemed undeterred by the Spanish mayhem surrounding her. 13315552_760710710732678_4749919554683926920_n She danced her little white-girl heart out to the content and amusement of all, and she even won! 🙂
She beamed with pride and a grin stretched from ear to ear, while gleefully accepting her prizes of a mango chocolate lollipop, two black and gold hair bands, and a sparkling toy tiara. 13321950_760710780732671_779912003825843878_n

We had to sneak out a little early to make it to our own opening day event at the new INFiERNO gym. While we may have missed a few of the final events, the several hours we spent at the fire station were plenty enough to satisfy the hearts of our very young. We took some time on the way out, to let the children climb and take photos with the village’s new fire engine. 13319836_760710800732669_6673799523232188790_n

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