And, we are back!

It is 2:10 am and we are back in Lewisburg with all our bags and feeling a bit silly not to have packed a hat and gloves for the low temps we are now experiencing!  Everyone has the strong desire to crawl into bed for a long time.  Some of us will be back to classes at 8 or 8:30 am.  We might write more with details of the re-immersion into campus life.

Nica Love All Day Long

-Beth Capaldi Evans

En route…

For anyone still following along, our departure day started at a weary 2:30 am with a gentle wake up call (as opposed to Saturday’s blast of “GOOD MORNING, NICARAGUA!”) and everyone packed and ready to load up our gear at 3 am.  Excellent teamwork made the exertion worth it, as we were done in short order.  By 3:15, we were seated in the bus and ready to roll to the airport.  We said goodbye to Jubilee House Community, appreciative of all they did to make our experience so educational, fun, and satisfying. (if you want to ready more about them, follow the link above, or check out The Center for Development in Central America, their non-profit.)

There were few cars on the road at that hour (although it seems we witnessed the moments after an accident by a motorcycle rider) and we got ourselves checked in to our TACA flight efficiently.  We said goodbye to Neville, the JHC volunteer coordinator and then the first phase of airport sleeping began as we waiting for our departure to San Salvador.  I think we were all a bit confused by lack of sleep and vagrancies of air travel, but we are now waiting (with a VERY long lay over) in the airport, sleeping, eating, window shopping and using the free (but intermittent) restaurant wifi.  Along the way, we are “enjoying” the antics of the ridiculous security measures employed by the security here — as in making us move through their manual security system moving us from place to place in a terminal. Sorry, that might be the fatigue talking!

We will get back to Dulles Airport in DC late, and then have a bus ride back to Lburg. I’d like to report that this most sassy of Brigades is still having fun, talking, laughing, engaging with one another, despite our tired state, our desire for a hot shower and clean clothing, and well, I guess just the stressors of a long travel day; we have just begun to consider the feelings associated with a 95 degree to 25 degree temperature adjustment — These people are truly something; I’ve been so pleased to be a part of the group.

Nica Love, from El Salvador! You can expect to hear from us again when we arrive in DC.

Beth Capaldi Evans

And The Real Work Begins

With surprising vigor after an entertaining evening at the discoteca, we continued the fun with the usual 6:45 wake-up call.  Breakfast this morning was bittersweet as we realized it would be our last meal at JHC, nevertheless the promise of indulging in Nicaraguan leisure was quite alluring.  The first activity on the “Tourist Day” agenda was to travel to the Volcan Masaya. As we approached the entrance to the park, we were given quite interesting pieces of information.  For example, if the volcano just so happened to begin spewing rock, park officials advised hiding under your vehicle.  Also, since the volcano (which erupted last April) has been known to expel car sized rocks, we were given hard hats for our protection.  With the preliminary safety procedures out of the way, we were able to begin our ascent to the summit.  Upon reaching the top, words cannot begin to describe the beauty of the scene (although Beth’s pictures begin to relay our awe). The group was able to explore several paths, although when the high winds began picking up the smaller rocks, we decided to head to lower grounds.

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The next stop was to visit Pedro the Potter.  A truly passionate and engaging individual, Pedro welcomed us into his workshop to demonstrate his craft. Talking us through the process and answering our questions all the time, he created an intricate pot largely without looking.  From our session we learned that to create a single pot, the process takes a total of twelve days. We raided his studio, literally wiping clean the shelves, for those lucky enough to receive one of his pots, you are in for a real treat.

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After finishing up at Pedro’s we began the drive to one of our most anticipated stops of the entire trip, the caldera.  A caldera is formed after a volcano erupts and the resulting crater is filled with water. As we entered the Monkey Hut resort, situated on the shores of the caldera, we were asked to partake in a TV interview by NicaTele, which broadcasts to Nicaraguans in California; so basically we are famous.  As if that weren’t enough entertainment, we decided today would be the day to film our Harlem Shake video. After the group assembled on a floating raft anchored in the caldera, we commenced dancing.  Unfortunately the uneven distribution of weight caused a minor catastrophe. After Sasha was claimed as the first victim, the rest of the Brigade fell overboard in a confused heap; the comedy of the situation was not lost on our considerable number of onlookers.  Afterwards we stuck to more sedentary activities to fill the afternoon. We could not have asked for a more beautiful day to spend bathing in the sun and enjoying each others company.  The three hours (and 13 pizzas we ate) went by way too fast.

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Grudgingly leaving Monkey Hut and the caldera, we set course to the Masaya Market.  In a more touristy area of Nicaragua, the market was filled with plenty of entertaining gifts.  With everything from baskets made of whole chickens to cowboy boots, the market provided plenty of entertainment and outlets for consumptive pleasures.  Once we made our purchases which ranged from fake Ray-Bans to hammocks, we took a stroll around the town square to experience the city life.  Dinner was scheduled at a lovely Mexican inspired restaurant and the entire second floor was devoted exclusively to the Brigade; the open-air design allowed us to eat as the sun set. With a collective satisfaction from all the days activities, we returned to JHC for the preparation of our unfortunate departure.

For our last group discussion we realized that although we’ve only been together for a week, we have grown as a family. The majority of us came in as near strangers, yet through our experiences in Nicaragua we share a bond that will remain forever.  Although our delegation is leaving JHC, we realize that our real work for the Nicaraguans has just begun.  We understand that being removed from the community does not lessen the impact we can have.  As we return to Bucknell, we all feel inspired to redouble our efforts at alleviating the inequality made blatantly apparent through the weeks trials and tribulations.

Until Next Time Nica

XOXO Bucknell Brigade, March 2013

The Adventures of the Discoteca!

DSC_9167So when we last left you, we were headed out to the discoteca. I think it’s safe to say everyone had a wonderful time! When we hit the dance floor for the first time, they of course started playing American music. Though we had all really wanted to dance to the Latin music, we didn’t let that stand in our way. We danced the night away, and thankfully we did eventually get a good mix of music.  Some of us even had the pleasure of dancing with some of the Nicaraguans, who could really dance to the Latin music! Also, we celebrated Becky’s birthday which is on Monday, so in all our minds she’s already 22. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to kick back, relax, and have fun after such a hard week of trying labor and intense situations. Everyone was so pumped up from the dancing at the discoteca that we were sad to climb the stairs to the bus; however, that didn’t stop us from singing Journey, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, and of course ‘Ray Bucknell the whole way home. And now we’re headed out on our day of being tourists!

NicaLoveAllDayLongandAllNightLong

-Stephanie Houser

It’s Getting Hot in Here!

All day, both Beths, Oswaldo, Patience, Steph H, and Katie worked on building a retaining wall around the bathroom and kitchen of the cotton factory to keep flood waters out. This entailed moving and placing probably 100-pound concrete bricks into a ditch, cementing them together, then filling in the ditch. The Nicaraguans working with us were Christian and Lucas. Lucas LOVED working with “Beth squared”, and was always quick to adjust a brick that he had just called “perfecto.” Meanwhile, Christian and Katie got talking, and it became apparent that he doesn’t have a girlfriend. Some time after, he called Katie over to the wall where he had placed the leftover concrete on the ground, and asked her to write her name in it so it would be there forever. Unfortunately, Christian doesn’t believe in long-distance relationships, but that’s okay because we found out later he’s apparently married with children. So he wasn’t lying when he said he didn’t have a girlfriend?

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Meanwhile, everyone else continued work on leveling the dirt for the road. The morning walk to the construction site was a bit of a struggle. The memories of yesterday’s hard work was still apparent in our extremely sore muscles. Only an hour before working, it was noticeable that some of us couldn’t even hold our eating utensils without severe pain…well that might be an exaggeration. We pick-axed and shoveled our way to victory! The road is leveled and ready to be paved. We have truly never been so proud of our efforts, even though Pedro still believes we are incapable.

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We also had another brief encounter with death. A horse spider showed up at our construction site, hairy and happy, and a bit purple. Jeff quickly scooped up Mr. Spider and took him to be examined by our biologist, Beth Evans.

In addition, we had an orientation for the disocteca tonight. The main demonstration included Beth Evans and Katie McAvoy putting their dance skills to good use. Beth got a little frisky, but Katie held her own. Beth was trying to demonstrate the male behavior that we should expect at tonight’s rendezvous. Interpret as you wish…After a grueling work day, we scrubbed off the gallons of dirt on our bodies (literally) in the shower and got all dolled up for the disco. Some people are unrecognizable after being stripped of their Nicaraguan “dirt tans.”

We had another success today. We finally established everyone’s nick names. A couple favorites include: Varsity, Buddha, Mackelmore, Fashionista, El bano, Fitch, and Striper.

Meaghan, Drew, and Irwin worked in the pharmacy today. Meaghan mentioned how there are no preventative medications, and how most of the drugs that are distributed throughout the day are temporary fixes for various ailments. Also, diabetics do not have many treatment options, and must manage without insulin.

It was definitely a productive day! We are all super pumped to unwind and enjoy our remaining time in Nica! Off to the disco!

Nica love,Katie M., Sasha, and Emily

 

 

Hi ho, its off to work we go!

To start off this blog I just wanted to hijack it for a bit to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my wonderful mother! Love you Janice McCarthy :)

Yet again, waking up today was a struggle. We had another delicious breakfast and at 8am we listened to another speaker bright and early. Luckily our speaker was witty enough to keep us awake even after our first 5 days of action-packed Nicaraguan adventure! Cesar Fajardo is a Nicaraguan native who was considered a guerrilla fighter for the revolution at 13 and was part of the group that took down the corrupt Samoza dictatorship. Now, Cesar is the director of projects at Jubilee House Community and came to speak to us about their community organizing efforts. He explained that unlike the American municipal organizations we rely on for electricity, running water, transportation, and even paved roads, Nicaraguans only have their neighbors to depend on to make change. We also got some authentic Latin American insight on the newly selected Pope. While Pope Francis was born and brought up in Argentina, he was “made with Italian machinery.” According to Cesar that means we might have to wait a little while to find a truly Latino Pope.

 

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From Cesar we learned that a paved road is a huge deal and requires many people and much time and effort to do so. In fact, because of the scarcity and luxury of paved roads here, in one town the only paved road was referred to as Millionaire’s Avenue. Today, most of us got out our pickaxes and shovels to lay the groundwork for a new paved road at JHC. We worked with Pedro, one of the Nicaraguans who works here at JHC. He is in his 50s and put us to shame breaking down the dusty, hardened dirt to level the path up to the loading dock of the cotton co-op. When we told Pedro he was worth 10 of us, he was kind enough to say that we’re all equals. It was a blatant lie but it was the perfect sentiment for our trip. A smaller group of Brigadistas (including one of our lovely authors Steph S.) worked to shovel a giant pile of sandy dirt through a sieve to make the cement that would later pave the road the others were sweating so hard over.

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During our lunch break, some members of the group ended up crashing on the floor. Beth led us in a hilarious meditation asking us to focus on the parts of our bodies that were touching the ground, the earth, our mother. Needless to say that led to an eruption of laughter. Then we fell asleep and apparently I (Becky) sometimes have a cute snore.

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As you can tell, our day was dirty, dusty, and exhausting but also rewarding. We still have our work cut out for us tomorrow but we made some progress to be proud of and I’m sure we’ll all be sore in the morning.

 

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Luckily, some of us were able to skip some of the hard labor and instead worked in the clinic for a portion of the day. Today, the dentist’s crew shared a story about a young 13 year boy who traveled quiet a distance by bus to the clinic. He thought he only needed to get a cavity filled but it turned out his tooth needs to be extracted. Heather couldn’t perform the extraction without his parents so all his effort went to waste today. Things like this make working at the clinic tough for us because we try to do as much as we can to help, but somethings are just out of our control. The doctor’   s crew had a similar experience but this one dealt with an 83 year old man. He had a very happy spirit but he was living with a condition that can no longer be cured because of his age here in Nicaragua. We were only able to help with some pain killers but overall he expressed his pleasure of having the clinic here to support the community.

Still dirty and sweaty, some of us ended our day heading to the Pulperia across the street for some much needed ice cream to cool down.

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Sorry to keep it short today but after all this manual labor, we are really looking forward to sleeping like rocks.

Nica love all day,

Oswaldo, Steph S., and Becky

 

 

Up Up Up and to the top we go!!!!!

After devouring a tropical Nicaraguan breakfast consisting of rice and beans, boiled eggs, tortillas, freshly baked bread, and an assortment of delicious fruit, we set off on an unforgettable journey to El Porvenir. After traveling two hours on a paved road we stopped at a gas station to purchase snacks, relieve ourselves, and fill the tank with diesel. Once we were done at the gas station we headed to the path, a dirt road, that led us to El Porvenir. Dust particles filled our nostrils as the yellow school bus made its way up the bumpy rocky dirt road. An ambulance with Rabbi Serena, Dr. Steve and Heather the dentist followed behind us. Our bus driver, Chico, maneuvered the school bus through the curved pathway trying his best to avoid hitting the animals, school children and locals that greeted us along the way. When the path got too steep, we transferred vehicles from the school bus to a very ‘stable’ tractor that transported all twenty-three of us to our destination at the top of the mountain. We all held on for dear life as the tractor rocked up, down and side to side. On the way up we picked an elderly woman who was headed to the top of the mountain to receive dental care.
Although we are on spring break, we were able to brush up on our science skills. We learned about equilibrium, a topic in physics when one of the community workers would jump off and reposition himself on the tractor to redistribute the weight. Sounds of relief filled the air once we finally made it up to the top of the mountain.

At the top, we walked around and observed the water system which was designed and built by Bucknell civil engineering students. Shortly after, lunch was served which was a combination of fried eggs, beans and rice, tortillas, avocados and a traditional local corn based drink. After we finished with lunch, we began our tour of the farm while Dr. Steve and Heather attended to the community members that were in need of healthcare. Juan Pablo, a  community member who had a share in the cooperative, showed us how the organic coffee beans (sold at Bucknell) are grown and harvested. He also showed us the young cocoa plantation which was dispersed between banana trees.

We then hiked up to the top of the mountain where we were able to see an active volcano, the edge of Honduras and the boundaries of the farm. The view was incredible!

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Several of the Brigadistas pose for a picture on the tractor before heading to El Porvenir.

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Little boy posing for the picture.

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Juan Pablo explaining the life-cycle of the coffee bean.

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Men on the top of the mountain.

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We made it!!!!! Women at the top of EL Porvenir

 

Jasmin Johnson and Patience Osei

Día de Trabajo

This morning we were privileged to have Carlos Pacheco, a Nicaraguan economist, speak to our group at JHC. He challenged us to think more deeply about the economic situation in Nicaragua, including the effects of widespread corruption and the recent death of Hugo Chávez. Although Nicaragua may be the second-poorest country in Latin America, it is a nation rich in resources, such as sustainable energy, that offer promising potential for the future.

After the talk, it was off to the clinic for a fun-filled day of helping out and interacting with the Nicaraguan people. Our group was assigned myriad tasks, such as painting the roof trim and various rooms inside of the clinic, working in the pharmacy filling prescriptions, sorting through medical files, reading books to the kids, and translating for Dr. Steve (our volunteer physician) and Dr. Heather (the volunteer dentist here with our group). Despite some minor mishaps with tainting white paint a slightly sea-foam green, spilling a bucket of said green paint on the building, and struggling with the language barrier, we managed to have a productive day!

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Drew had fun hanging out with his two new amigos!

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Jeff and Steph painted some awesome cabinets for the clinic (although they reported later that the fumes in the enclosed space were somewhat overwhelming…)

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Patience and Becky were hard at work painting some beams on the roof of the clinic, as well as themselves…

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Emily got to practice her Spanish by reading to the kids who were waiting to be seen at the clinic

It seemed that the Nicaraguan kids didn’t want to see us leave at the end of the day – on our way back to JHC, several of them tried to hitch a ride on the back of our car! We all gained new respect and appreciation for the local workers who helped us out at the clinic. Their patience with our apparent lack of construction skills and language capabilities was unbelievable. We’re excited to continue our work throughout the week! Stay tuned for an update on our visit to El Porvenir tomorrow. ¡Hasta luego!

From Kate K and Jessie L

Nueva Vida, New Life

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It’s going to be hard to describe what we saw today…

The crunch of plastic under our feet. The nauseating smell of a decaying horse carcass. The flecks of dirt and ash in the space between our eyes and eyelids. The explosion of black smoke in the sky. A toddler so dirty that he was indistinguishable from the surrounding garbage. Children swinging from a garbage truck tilted over 20 feet in the air to deposit new trash to the Nueva Vida dump. Some of them die, we were told. The sheer joy and shrieks of excitement at the prospect of a new load of trash to pick through. Dirty and abandoned stuffed animals turned face-down in the trash remains. The harvested peanut farm leading into the dump. Swarms of vultures picking at the same piles as the swarms of people. Dogs shrinking away in the shade of wheelbarrows, seeking solace and temporary safety under wheelbarrows. Cooking of mercury-laden fish from Lake Managua as lunch, boiled in a tin can over a makeshift stove. The fact that all of this is the product of human corruption, political warfare, and social injustice. The concept that this country’s president is also an alleged sexual assaulter.

Things that inspired us….

The incessant laughter of children playing in their unpaved roads. Seeing the growth of the Jubilee House Clinic and the variety of services they offer. Hearing Mark Lester speak this morning on the progress of Nicaragua’s economic circumstances since the revolution. Our wonderfully talented, sassy group attempting to write a Brigade theme song to Taylor Swift’s Trouble. Being able to share our experiences together in our evening reflection. The feeling of camaraderie while we all worked on various projects in the clinic. Being able to hand out medications free of charge. Giving a good laugh to locals as they witnessed our inability to paint, drill holes in cement and wash out paint buckets….ask Jeff. Having Oswaldo and Kate be able to translate and truly interact with the patients. Getting a good workout with the painters from Nueva Vida. Curry chicken with all of the fixings for dinner. Becca, one of the community leaders from JHC, being so hopeful about the progress in the community, and being so lighthearted about some of the difficulties. Having a Nicaraguan nurse thank me for attempting to speak Spanish to her (Beth). Knowing that I experienced something today that few get to in their lifetime (Meaghan). Even though we were in this horrible dump, people were able to sit down and eat lunch and live somewhat “normally” (Katie).  That I was able to laugh, despite the language barrier (Patience). The fact that people of such diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to do something that has such an impact on the local people (Abishek).

Questions today left us with…

Are the people in the dump happy? How do you define happiness? Is development freedom? What is agency? How do corrupt governments continue to thrive? What more could we do as individuals to help the community? How much can you use something before it is considered trash? How do the people here view this large group of Americans? Is there really humanity? How do we really bring the brigade back to Bucknell?

 

As you can see, today was an overload of sensations, emotions, accomplishments, interactions. I think every single one of us fell in love a little more with this country, its people, its music, its vibrance, its food, its resiliency, and the love nestled in the belly of poverty. It all began with gallo pinto (rice and beans) and eggs and a fascinating talk by Mark Lester, questionably one of the most knowledgeable people any of us have ever encountered. He spoke about how the history of this country in terms of politics and economy has projected its future in these areas. JHC is the perfect example of a small, grassroots organization using appropriate technology to empower the citizens of its community, as we saw on our tour of the facility in the organic cotton cooperative, and health clinic.

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Surrounding the clinic, the town of Nueva Vida consists of dilapidated tin shacks, squatter homes, and playgrounds with missing swings. A five minute walk from the clinic brought us to the Nueva Vida dump, sprawling acres and employing hundreds of people who pick through the trash to put meals on the table. DSCN4684

Lunch was a little quiet as we attempted to take in the magnitude of what we had witnessed. What we perceived as “tans” was actually ash from the dump, wiped completely clean by baby wipes. The various projects during our afternoon work in the clinic rekindled our morale but seemed to set the tone of drastic contrast, which we discussed over dinner.

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From the country of never-ending adventure,

Meaghan (the neuroscience major), Abishek (the mechanical engineer), and Beth E (the creative writing enthusiast).

Amazing, Emotional, Topsy-turvy Managua Tour

Today we was our first full day in Nicaragua and we spent the entire time touring Managua.  We woke up at 7:15 after a much needed sleep (especially for some more than others) and were treated to an awesome breakfast of gallo pinto with fresh fried plantains and homemade bread.  There was also coffee from the cooperative which is an absolute necessity.  After breakfast, we got to hear from Mike Woodard, the founder and head of  the Jubilee House Community.  He spoke about the founding and history of JHC and the current economic conditions of the community.
We all boarded the magic school bus and began our tour. We stopped first at a beautiful memorial looking over Lake Managua dedicated to victims of the Contra Terrorism against the Sandinistas. Then we moved on to the Ben Linder House with a courtyard decorated with murals and learned about his legacy. Next we stopped at the plaza de revolution and got to stand in the spot where major historical events have occurred in both the Somoza era and the Sandinista regime.  We got a tour of the National Palace by a native Nicaraguan women (with translations from our Spanish speakers!), and got a glimpse of many of the important artifacts from the recent history.  We even found a bison in Latin America!  RAY BUCKNELL!!!!!!!!!!!  DSC_8390

We stood in the same room where the Sandinistas overthrew the National Guard in their quest to retake Nicaragua for the people, which was a major step in the beginning of the revolution.  Our next stop on the Managua tour was to an authentic Nicaraguan marketplace.  This was an eye-opening experience for everyone, and one of the highs and lows for many of the Brigadistas.
Finally we got to sit down in a beautiful open air restaurant where we had a delicious lunch of Popoussas and had authentic Nicaraguan beverages.  After filling our stomachs, we set off for the cathedral that was designed in the spirit of Jerusalem but failed to live up to the building.  Many interpretations of the cathedral surfaced, many inappropriate for this Bucknell censored blog.  Afterwards, we headed off for lomo de escapa which is currently a viewing spot of the entire city where we could see all the amazing places from earlier in the day. We quickly popped by Daniel’s house for a quick house call but he was unfortunately not there lol.
Our last stop of the day and one of the main highlights of our day was a visit Gerado the muralist who has previously visited Bucknell and his mural is portrayed outside of 7th street cafe.  He and his wife, who also sells beautifully crafted feathers and jewelry, were extremely welcoming and willing to share their life stories with us.  Many felt that he embodied Nica values and hope that many have lost.  Collectively, we were all inspired by his passion and talent.  He then took us to the cultural center where we saw his beautiful murals and attended a liberation theology Catholicism service.  Although many of us could not understand the service, we still felt very connected to the community and the warmth of Nicaraguan hospitality.
We then boarded the bus and headed for home and were greeted by a delicious burrito meal which we quickly ate before having our fearless leaders lead us in a high/low reflection on the day.  This was very helpful for everyone to express and  reflect on such a busy and emotional day.  Btw, Lauren would like to wish her mom the best birthday ever!!

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#nicalovealldaylong,
-Zach, Lauren, Morgan