Huacachina, Ica, Peru

Huacachina is literally an oasis in the middle of the Peruvian desert, and it’s a location I’ve wanted to go to ever since moving to Peru! On a whim, my husband and I decided to plan a trip to Ica & Huacachina, and I was so glad we got to escape Lima for a few days.

Ica is located in Southern Peru, about 264 kilometres (or 164 miles) from the capital of Lima. It’s basically a straight shot south on the Pan-American highway, with stops in various cities along the way. Google Maps says the trip should take 3 hours + 38 minutes, but let’s face it… in Peru, everything takes longer, including a road trip! It took us about 5 hours to get to Ica, and about 4 1/2 hours back to Lima.

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To get to Ica, your mode of transportation is a bus. This is the transportation Peruvians are accustomed to, and I don’t think many Gringos take advantage of the buses throughout their travels in Peru.

We took Peru Bus from Lima to Ica, for 20 soles (each) there and 22 soles (each) back. There are two choices for buses: VIP or regular. The VIP buses go straight from the bus stop downtown Lima to Ica, with no stops along the way. On the other hand, the regular Peru buses have lots of stops along the way before leaving Lima, and stops in Cañete, Chincha, Pisco, and Ica. With these buses, you can get on and off whenever you want to, at their designated stops. We chose the regular bus, so we saved a trip downtown and simply walked to a designated stop a few blocks away.

When we got to Ica, we hopped out of the bus, and began our walk to the plaza. We had read some reviews on Trip Advisor about hotels, and decided to stay at Hotel Colon beside the plaza.  (See my review on TA) We got a room for S./60 a night, and breakfast was not included, nor was Wifi, as our phones never connected. (but we didn’t care)

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For lunch in Ica, I recommend finding a Chifa restaurant (Chinese), or a Menu. Menu restaurants include an appetizer + main dish + drink for anywhere from 8 to 20 soles. We chose to eat at Doña Vilma’s right in front of the plaza. Their lunch cost S./8, and had quite a few options to choose from! I love eating at Menus… best bang for your bucks! It’s a little hole in the wall, but the service is good, and the food was ready fast.

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After filling up on food, we walked to the bus stop to catch a mototaxi for a ride to Huacachina. We were told that it should cost around 5 soles, so that’s what we bartered for. One driver said 8 soles! When you’re a Gringa, you get the Gringa-price! ;) 

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As soon as we got out of the mototaxi at Huacachina, men came up to us offering us excursions in their dune buggies… we just kept walking and went off to explore the small Huacachina Lagoon. I was a little disappointed with the lagoon… the water was dirty, trash was everywhere, and the water level was really low. But that didn’t stop the tourists and locals from enjoying the area. We hiked up the sand dunes to get a better view and take too many pictures. We stayed over 2 hours in the sun and sand, waiting for the sunset…. it was worth it!

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Dinner was at El Paradero… another restaurant at the plaza. We split a half chicken, salad, and plate of fries for 28 soles. The food was great, service was great, and the price was great for what we got! You can never go wrong with a chicken dinner in Peru!

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The next morning we went to the fruit/juice shop right next to our hotel. Breakfast was small- a yogurt/fruit salad, and small bread roll with fried egg for S./7.  After we ate, we walked around town a bit, looking for things to do. Honestly, there is nothing in Ica to do when you’re on a budget! Sure, there are trips to museums and wineries and restaurants, but all those cost at least 35 soles a person, and our budget didn’t allow for that.

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What our budget did allow for, was checking out a new hotel! A block behind the plaza was the Palacio del Sol Hotel, which we had not seen or heard of online anywhere, so we were surprised to find it. It is relatively new, very clean, fancy, and the staff is friendly. Because it is off-season for tourists, we got a discounted hotel room: 60 soles instead of the usual 70 soles! The room was much quieter than Hotel Colon, and the bathroom was huge!

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We had Menu for lunch again, then headed back to Huacachina to enjoy the sunshine all afternoon. Hiking up the sand dunes is such a workout, but so worth it for the views!

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For dinner we tried out a Chifa restaurant a block from the plaza, that was a little pricey (12 soles a person), but delicious! Afterwards, we walked around the plaza a few times, then back to the hotel to sleep. Hiking the dunes wore us out!

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The next morning, we were on a bus heading home by 6:20am! It was a quick trip to Ica, and we didn’t do anything touristy while we were there, but I would love to go back someday. Lots of tourists stop by Ica on their way to or from Nazca, as it’s closeby. I wouldn’t say that Ica is a huge tourist destination, but Huacachina definitely is, and despite the expensive prices of everything, and dirtiness, it deserves to be seen! There’s nothing quite like climbing sand dunes and seeing the surreal landscapes of the Peruvian desert! 

Have you ever been to a desert oasis?

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Parque de la Reserva

Today I’m sharing a fun tourist to-do in Lima!

The three times I was a tourist in Lima for a day here or there (in between trips to the mountains), I never strayed away from the hotel and American food joints nearby. Getting places is confusing and complicated, unless you’re willing to shell out a hunk of money to a knowing taxi driver. Therefore, I never really got to see any of the sites that tourists see in Lima… besides a mall and restaurants.

Once I moved to Lima, I decided I wanted to branch out and see some of the “touristy” things that Lima has to offer. And thank goodness for a husband who knows his way around Lima! We caught a bus that took us nearly all the way there, minus a few blocks from the entrance. It’s located near the National Stadium, so that’s a helpful guide when getting there!

Back in May, we planned to go to the Parque de la Reserva AKA Parque de las Aguas AKA Circuito Magico del Agua (it’s known by a lot of things). Regardless of what you prefer to call it, this Water park is worthy of a trip! So, pencil it in your agenda, find a trustworthy taxi that won’t rip you off, and enjoy your stay!

Where to go:: Parque de la Reserva, Jr. Madre de Dios con Av. Petit Thouars (door 1 of the park)

What it is:: a magical, colorful water park filled with 13 different fountains that light up at night in bright colors. The park was opened on February 19, 1929, but was completely abandoned in the 1960s. In 2006 everything was repaired and the park was reopened!

When to go:: While it’s fun to see the park during the daylight, make sure you plan to go from 5:30 – 7:30, as there are light shows every night at 7:15, 8:15, and 9:30. You’ll want to plan to be in the park about 2 hours to make sure you can take your time to see everything!

Price:: The cost is S./4 per person, and free for kids!

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Upon entering the park, the first thing you see is a gigantic fountain, spitting water high up into the sky. It’s surrounded by statues of nymphs and little tiled pools. It’s beautiful!

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This fountain dances to the water, and spurts up and down and up and down, and you can run through the fountains… at your own risk! We had fun watching other tourists run through and accidentally get soaked!

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One of my favorite shots of the night… I like the dark figures against the water!

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I enjoyed our night at the water park, and recommend it to any tourist who wants to see a unique & historical park in Lima!

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Mistura 2014

Two weeks ago, my husband and I spent the day wandering around the huge Peruvian gastronomical festival that is Mistura. It’s kind like a State Fair (for those familiar with them in the States) with lots of foods and exhibits about foods, except there are no terrifying beat-up rides, no yucky greasy food that will have you running for the porta-potties, and no motorcycle events or pig races. Ok, so I guess that’s my stereotyped version of a North Carolina State Fair, but Mistura is totally different.

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Mistura covers a giant area of land along Magdelena del Mar AKA beachfront in Lima. It features all sorts of foods and cuisines (divided into Worlds) and natural resources from Peru, including food from the North, South, Amazon, Creole, Chinese food, sandwiches, sweets, and ceviche. The range of comida is astounding, and if I had the time and money (and stomach) I would try one of everything!

Mistura is tricky because there are parts of the fair that accept money (Peruvian soles), but most parts only accept meal tickets, which can be purchased in S./20, S./50, or S./100  amounts. Most foods will cost you S./13, leaving S./7 which can get you a drink (juice, smoothie), or a dessert. For the two of us, I exchanged S./50 for the meal tickets, and we were able to eat a lot between the two of us (plus samples!), and ended up with S./2 tickets left over… oops.

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Once we were inside, we knew we wanted to start with food! One of the most famous foods at the fair is Chancho al Palo, and it’s one of the first things you smell upon entering the gates! There were lots of stands selling Chancho al Palo, and the most famous one had the longest line. We were so hungry we chose the shortest line, and devoured the food in minutes after taking pictures of it. :) Chancho and Anticuchos cost S./16.

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The pigs cooking away!

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Beer World is new this year, and while husband and I aren’t beer drinkers, he was obligated to take pictures since he had a press pass. The World is a big area, with vendors on the outside of the circle, and a taste-testing section in the middle. We stopped there to talk and ask a beer “specialist” about Beer World, and it’s popularity, and then moved on to take more pictures. It was interesting walking around and seeing the main beer producers in Peru… of which there were only a few represented. Each place was decorated differently, depending on where they were located…. Cusco, the jungle, the mountains, etc.

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From there, we walked all the way to be front of the place, to start with Kid’s World. There are all sorts of different Worlds, and this year Kid’s World is new! We were there with one agenda (besides eating yummy foods)- taking pictures and getting info about Kid’s World for an online magazine. My husband had a press pass, making it easy for him to slide in and take photos, but I had to wait outside until they gave me the thumbs up to enter. I was introduced as “editor” of the magazine, which was a little stretch ;) but got me in, nonetheless. We walked around, learned about everything, and were out to explore more Worlds! The article I wrote up can be found here.

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Foods you should eat, according to Kid’s World!

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Sweets World was the main place I wanted to explore, and thankfully, some of the chocolatiers were very nice and talkative with us (thank you, press pass), and we spent a lot of time talking to them about cacao and how their company works. I got so much information from them, that I wrote another article, found here! And of course we couldn’t leave without buying a few chocolates… I got a coffee chocolate bar, and some chocolate covered peanuts. YUM.

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The Gran Mercado, or Grand Market, was another favorite place of mine at Mistura this year. It features all sorts of products, produces, and promotions for Peruvian foods, crafts, and coffees. We spent at least an hour walking down each aisle, getting samples, taking pictures, and talking to the vendors from all over Peru. We sampled coffee, a green minty drink that helps with digestion, fruits, hot sauces, quinoa manjar (kind of like caramel), more coffee, fruit juice, honey, and probably other things I can’t remember! I bought the quinoa manjar  because it’s from Huaraz, and aguaymanto (tangy jungle fruit) because it was a great price! To buy things in the Gran Mercado you have to pay in Soles, not the meal tickets.

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Famous Peruvian produce

We breezed through other worlds, before deciding where we wanted to eat lunch… a tough choice, but we decided on Amazonian food: ribs with a chocolate-y glaze sauce and plantains from La Patarashca. It was amazing and finger-licking delicious! Then, we booked it to find some dessert, and settled with Picarones from Larita for S./6.

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empty tables on a Saturday!

At this point it was around 4:00pm and we were tired, full, and happy, but not finished yet! Mistura has a Gran Auditorio (Grand Auditorium) where there are presentations, talks from famous chefs, and other culinary events. My husband wanted to go in and snap some photos, so I waited outside awkwardly, until he came and said I was able to go in too! We left our ID’s at the front, were given Qaray press passes, notebooks, schedules, and walked right in to the auditorium where we sat at the back. We walked in during the middle of a presentation from Ben Reade of Nordic Food Lab. It was in English (!) and very interesting to hear about his life, travels, and research. After him, we saw Gastón Acurio, only the most famous Peruvian chef. Then we saw a presentation by Diego Muñoz and some culinary students. It was so cool being able to sit in on these sessions and hear from esteemed people in the food world!

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Ben Reade

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Gastón Acurio

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Diego Muñoz

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Eat well, eat healthy, eat Peruvian

As we were walking out of the auditorium & turning in our passes, we were told to head to the International Press building for cocktail hour. We thought, “what the heck?” and walked to there just to check it out. We were greeted with drinks upon walking in (Pisco, maracuya juice, Inca Kola, Chicha Morada…well-known Peruvian drinks) and told to take a seat. We sat down at a table with a Chilean chef who owns Restaurante Piura- so cool! As we sat there taking it all in, waiters came around with trays of amazing Peruvian foods, featuring lots of quinoa, seafood, and meats. Everything I tried was so delicious, but especially the quino-covered shrimp with sweet, tangy passionfruit sauce! Moments later, three famous foodies came and greeted the international press… I don’t know their names, but it’s still cool!

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We took advantage of the free stuff with the press pass, and got fresh, cold, passionfruit (maracuya) juices! It was quite cold outside, so we sucked them down quickly after taking pictures at this cool chalk wall at Mistura! I wanted to sign it, but there was no chalk :)

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After stuffing ourselves with appetizers, we were tired and ready to start the long trip back home. However, as we got closer to the exits near Beer World, the sound of music magically drew us into the line outside to enter the concert. The headliner show (starting at 8:30pm) was 1980’s Peruvian rock band, Rio. It was fun to hear some of their songs, even though I had never heard them before and couldn’t understand half the lyrics!

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By 9:00 we were exhausted, so out the Mistura gates we went, and up the hill we walked to the bus stop. It was a long day, but a really awesome one in my book. I went to Mistura last year with a friend, but this year was so much better. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Mistura with my husband, and had a great time taking advantage of his press pass. And being there as a journalist was super fun because I really felt I learned more from talking to the vendors and workers, instead of just doing my own thing and not gaining any cultural experience or knowledge.

I was very impressed with the organization of Mistura, and the cleanliness of everything from tables to the porta-potties. Although Mistura isn’t extremely popular with everyone, I had a good time, and would recommend it to other expats or tourists in Peru. It’s a great way to learn about Peruvian cuisine and culture, and practice your Spanish with the vendors! :)

Here are three interesting Mistura recaps I’ve found:

NPR

Eater

Peru This Week

On Cooking

Cooking and eating at home in Peru has been quite different than back home in the States.

For starters, we cook for just the two of us, instead of a family of 4+. We have to watch how much we make, because my husband is a firm believer in eating everything instead of just throwing it away. If we make it, we eat it. And of course on the rare occasion when we put leftovers in the fridge, we always forget to check there before deciding what to eat the next day, so sometimes those get thrown out.

Secondly, we try to make a mix of Peruvian staples + American staples. This includes fried plantains, rice, anything with potatoes, spaghetti, chili, chicken noodle soup, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Those might not sound like “staples” in either country, but they are what we consider staples. We don’t really experiment outside of these cuisines, because he doesn’t like spicy foods, and I don’t like it when dinner takes 3+ hours to make (unless I turn on the crockpot in the mornings!) Although, I am itching to learn some traditional Peruvian dishes!

It’s not as easy to cook here. Ok, so it’s not that it isn’t easy, per se, it just isn’t as convenient as back home. We have a sauce pan, a small pot, and a medium pot, and we’re constantly washing them because we re-use them sometimes twice to make one meal. The oven is reallllly slow at baking, and we don’t have a broiler. The one time I tried baking chicken breasts, they were still pink after 30 minutes. Sometimes our gas stovetop gets too hot from overuse, and it cooks our food too fast. (think: burnt sautéed onions) If I want to prep ingredients for a crockpot meal, I have to do it right before cooking, because there isn’t room in our tiny fridge to store a crockpot overnight. Lots of the recipes I like from back home use ingredients that can’t be found here (soups, seasonings, beans w/ peppers, etc.) We don’t have a blender, hand mixer, or big cutting board, which are readily available at home and I used to use frequently. Even my cookie recipes always turn out crappy, whether from the ingredients or the oven, I’m not sure! :)

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Cooking baking fail

We like keeping things simple. Some of our favorite meals involve rice, avocado, fried eggs, sliced tomato, fried plantains, salad, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes. The ingredients are super simple, but we jazz things up with garlic, Italian seasoning, lemon pepper, lime, and other seasonings I brought from the States.

The grocery stores here are not like the ones at home. Usually back home, already-cooked beans are $1-2. Here they’re the equivalent of $4-5. Cream cheese is nearly $5…and carrot cake doesn’t taste the same without it. Bacon is never on sale, and 6 slices cost us $3.50.  Tortillas are about $3 and it’s a random brand I’ve never tried. I realize the prices shouldn’t deter me from using the ingredients I know (and love) to make dishes, and that’s where my next point comes in…

We’re on a budget and try not to go overboard on price of ingredients. Because we only cook for 2 and we don’t get too complicated in the kitchen, it’s somewhat easy to stick to a grocery budget. Noodles are on sale every other week, so we buy them then. Rice is affordable, and it goes with every meal. We found the perfect little veggie/fruit market, and the prices there are insane. What we usually spend the most on is meat- ground beef or chicken breasts, oil (olive or vegetable), Hunt’s BBQ sauce, and bottled water. And then there are the times I want to get creative and buy lots of things to try, but then realize we’re on a budget and I need to stick with the basics!

Although things are a little different here in Peru, I still love being in the (tiny) kitchen and helping make yummy food with my husband. I’m still adjusting to cooking and baking and food shopping on a tight budget here, and although I might complain a bit, I’m enjoying the learning curve! :)

Here are just a few of the many delicious things we’ve cooked up the past few months!

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Asking for Help

Today I had to do something that I’m generally not very comfortable doing… I had to ask for help.

Since moving to Peru, I’ve been somewhat independent. But when I need help with anything, my husband is always there to help me. Except for today.

Getting my paperwork done to have my visa changed to “Resident” has been such a hassle. Of course I shouldn’t have expected anything less from the Peruvian government (or any other government for that matter), but I’m an optimist. I expected things to be easily explained and there to be a step-by-step detailed list. False.

After figuring out where to start a few months ago, we got the ball rolling with my papers at Migraciones (Immigrations), paid some money, then waited a month out for an appointment. After the appointment, they directed me to Interpol to get my international record checked out. (Not gonna lie, it’s pretty cool saying, “I’ve been to Interpol.”) From there, Interpol told me I needed to return in a week to get my papers.

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Yes that is an odontogram- tooth record!

So today was the day I needed to go to Interpol and pick up my papers, and take them back to Migraciones. And today, my dear husband whom I rely on so much, is out of town and could not help me get from one place to the next, safely and wisely.

I got off my bus on the PanAm this morning, walked a few big blocks, and was at Interpol by 8:40. I waited in line for maybe 5 minutes, then went in to get my papers. Super quick & easy… the easiest part of the process so far! From there, I knew I needed to get the papers to Migraciones today, before my week got to busy and I forgot.

Here’s where the something uncomfortable comes into play… I had to ask for help… from someone I had never met before!

Now I realize that asking for help is a part of life, and people do it all the time. But not me. I don’t know if it means I’m too prideful or arrogant, or maybe just flat out stubborn, but I don’t like to ask for help. Whether it’s a situation that involves emotions, information, money, a simple act of kindness… I’m not good at asking for help.

And today I had to overcome that. I had to admit to someone that I don’t feel comfortable traveling alone downtown, and that I wasn’t 100% sure how to get to where I needed to go, despite having been there four times already! I had to ask someone to take time out of their day to help me. And thank the Lord she did, because had she not, I would have been lost… physically and emotionally.

My new friend (who has known my husband for years) stepped up when I needed someone’s help, and I will be forever grateful! She taught me a new route to take on the buses to get downtown faster (my husband and I always walk, and taking a bus seriously saved us 40 minutes of walking!) and helped me translate when I couldn’t think quickly enough. She waited in line with me, and was really nice and patient about everything. And we were there and back before lunchtime, which is a huge success in downtown Lima! ;)

So I guess even though asking for help isn’t always the most fun, sometimes getting the help is the fun part. I made a new friend, learned a new route, and got my papers turned in all because I asked for her help. In the future I’m going to try not to be too shy to ask for help.

I sure am learning a lot from living here in Lima.

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Summer

Ahh, just the word summer conjures up senses filled with pure joy…

…hot rays of the sun dancing on my skin

…smelling that fresh, wet smell after summer thunderstorms

…slurping down $1.50 snocones from Pelican’s in every flavor

…feeling sweat trickling down my back as I walk to the mailbox, my car, or anywhere more than a 20-foot distance

…wearing shorts and tanktops and flip flops and pretty sundresses

…watching Durham Bulls baseball games with my best friends

…making salads, fruit cobblers, ice cold sweet tea

…sleeping with my window open at night and hearing the crickets and frogs and outdoorsy noises that I love

…resisting the urge to look cute, and putting my hair up in ponytails every day

…cooking on the grill with my dad

…going to the Farmer’s Market and buying farm fresh tomatoes, blackberries, basil, and wildflowers

…laying out in the sun, then jumping in the nearest body of water for a swim

…relaxing in my hammock reading a book, as I furiously swat away mosquitoes

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do any of those lovely summery things.

It’s currently the dead of winter here in Lima, and I’m missing summer like none other. Seeing pictures of my friends enjoying a summer down south or out west is killing me. At first, I didn’t mind so much… but then I saw even more pictures of friends kayaking and paddle boarding and riding bikes and hiking and surfing and reading books on the beach and having backyard barbecues and making homemade ice cream… and all that really got to me. Oh, and hearing people complain, “I can’t believe July is almost over- where is summer going?!” makes me roll my eyes because I’m all, “thank goodness July is almost over- I’m ready for spring and summer in Lima!”

I hate to admit it, but I’m jealous. I’m jealous of people getting to enjoy my all-time favorite season while I’m trying to survive winter in a foreign country.

It’s cold and damp with 88% humidity, and it makes me feel miserable. I keep hoping to see the sun, or to not shiver when I first step outside, but folks say that won’t come for a few more months. The only things keeping me optimistic are memories of summers past, and the exciting future of spending the summer in Peru with my husband! :) See, I am optimistic and happy and not entirely grumpy!

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What are your favorite things about summer?

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