Archive | May 2013

Buying Rural Real Estate

This morning, August and I signed ~100 pages of legal mumbo jumbo and became homeowners again. YaHOO! Not just homeowners but also landowners. The property we bought includes 28 acres – that’s a whole lot in the eyes of some and just a few in the eyes of others (i.e. my husband). Having some room to hunt, fish, grow trees, etc, was my husband’s #1 real estate priority since we started this journey last summer. Turns out, buying a little land with a house is harder than you might think, even here in Mississippi, where you are never more than a few miles from “the boonies“. Along the way, we’ve learned some (truly fascinating) stuff that’s clearly not common knowledge, as only a slim sector of the population is after this sort of land/house combo. I’d thought I’d record some of what we learned here in case others find themselves in a similar situation.

1. Land Lending

In the beginning stages of the search, we sat down to determine how much property we could afford to buy, given our down payment savings and the crazy low mortgage rates available these days. Well, as it turns out, land isn’t actually “mortgage-able”, not even land with a house on it. We were surprised by this at first.

All-important lending guidelines in the mortgage industry require that there be no more than 5-7 acres attached to a house. So your typical bank loan office doesn’t want to see you under contract for a house and 28 acres. That’s too far out of the box. Their appraisal systems aren’t set up to handle that. Etc Etc.

For raw land, you can actually borrow money to buy it from specialty lending institutions called “land banks”. We have several in our area. These guys are set up to make loans on raw land, but its a little bit of a different ballgame from mortgage lending at a bank. We didn’t go down this road so I don’t know the whole story. But, I did learn that their interest rates are a little higher than mortgage rates. We were quoted about 5%, meanwhile mortgage rates were less than 3%. The terms of the loans offered also are a bit different from conventional mortgages. In our case, the 5% rate also was fixed for the first few years, and then adjustable each year after that. AND conversely to the bank mortgage, the land bank isn’t set up to lend on homes. So, unless the value of the land far eclipses the value of the house, a home/land combo is outside of THEIR box as well. That’s not the case in our situation.

To buy the property we found, we actually separated our purchase into two different contracts: one for the house and 5 acres, and one for 23 bare acres.

2. Surveys & Legal Descriptions

If you want to buy even small acreage in a rural area, you really need a recent survey. A survey is where a qualified surveyor reviews the legal description of the property and physically walks around checking that the corners of the property are appropriately marked. They check the fences and put out little flags on the property line. They make a map showing where all the structures are, and whether any neighbors’ shed is hanging over the property line, etc. This is not a cheap service either, ours cost $2000.

Our sellers had no recent survey, and they were kinda ticked at us for making a big deal about it in the beginning. But eventually they agreed to split the cost. And boy are we glad we pressed it because as it turned out, the legal description {the words on file at the courthouse that describe where your property lines are} had a major error in it. In this picture, the black lines are the property lines, whereas the red lines are the property lines as described at the courthouse.

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So the moral of this story is: Get a survey. Unless you’re buying a home in a subdivision or an established neighborhood, its really really important.

3. Home Insurance & Fire Zones

As it turns out, not all home insurance companies like to write policies for rural properties. I had no idea. Our insurance company that we’ve had for years, including our previous home owner’s policy, quoted us what we thought was a pretty high rate for such a small house. Then they quoted an even HIGHER rate if the walls of the home turned out to be wood frame construction rather than brick. (Its brick thank goodness.) We saved a bunch of money by shopping around, which is a huge hassle, but apparently some companies even specialize in rural properties, while others look at you like you’ve grown a third eye.

To generate a quote, the insurance guys have to figure out what fire zone you are in. This is a scale from 1 to 10 where 10 equals $$$ premiums. What determines your fire zone is how far you are from a fire station, whether its a volunteer fire station, and whether there are fire hydrants near your property.

Moral here: If you buy a house made out of wood, more than 5 miles from a fire station, expect to have high insurance rates. If you’re building a house, you probably want to look at have a couple of brick walls. Our house has 3 thankfully.

4. Utilities and Services

This one falls a little bit into the ‘duh’ category but I’ll list anyway. Rural properties don’t have access to the same level of services that are available in the city.

We have a septic tank at the new house to handle what a sewer normally would. We requested a septic inspection and everything checked out. However, we did learn that when it breaks, we’ll have to upgrade to a treatment plant. Septics are no longer cool with the health department.

Besides that we don’t have good cell coverage. Cable Internet isn’t available. But DSL is. And we have propane in place of natural gas.

We’re okay with all that but it’s definitely something to think about!

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Coming to America

I know that it’s Memorial Day and I should probably post a blog along that theme.  But since I just recently posted a blog on my Grandfather (who was also a WWII veteran), I’ve decided to post on a different topic…one that we’ve talked about before, but not for a while: Compassion International.  You’ve heard me talk about Compassion International’s Leadership Development Program students before.  They are an amazing group of students.  This past week, I got to spend time with five of them.

First up was two days and two nights last weekend of sightseeing in Nashville with Stella from Kenya.  I met Stella on my first trip to Kenya 3 years ago and have gotten to see her several times since….including getting to go with her to Seattle to meet her sponsor the first time she was in the states.  We both loved the Delta Riverboat cruise at Opryland and Stella proclaimed Broadway to be “very American” due to all the hats and cowboy boots.  But beyond all the fun times, I loved getting to be around Stella’s encouraging spirit.  Her absolute faith in the Lord is inspiring and her positive attitude is infectious.

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Enjoying our time at the Opryland Hotel.

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Stella wanted a photo with a sign that said “Nashville: Music City USA.” The Joe’s Crab Shack mural was sadly the only one we could find.

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My sweet friend Stella. Posing for a quick portrait outside the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. I figured after dragging her to Broadway and Opryland, she needed a break from “touristy” spots so we checked out the South American pottery and felt cultured.

This past Tuesday morning, I dropped Stella off in Huntsville with her host family and continued on to Talledega, Alabama for Student Life Camp training week.  When I was India this past March, I absolutely fell in love with the LDP students we met.  One of the students, Vicky, is still in India finishing up his University exams, but the other four students are here and getting adjusted to life in America.  We had lots of good conversation about the oddities of American culture (why DO we take ice in every drink, even if it’s cold outside…or inside?) and what they would encounter this summer.  Hearing them practice telling their stories and the impact Compassion International has had on them and their families was amazing.  It’s incredible that these students who grew up in such extreme poverty (one boy mentioned his father’s wages were around 85 cents per day in US currency), in some cases in single-parent households or the children of addicts, are now able to stand up and tell their stories…..stories that end in changed hearts and lives and great success.  Today the students shared these stories with their teams on behalf of the many many children in the world that are still living in poverty, without hope or dreams.

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Neha (left) and Sudeshna (right) pose with me after having just given me my first lesson in how to wear a Sari.

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Finally getting to wear the Sari I purchased on my trip to Kolkata in March. The girls told me I was “looking very Indian,” but apparently three-quarter length sleeves on the blouse for is a little “frumpy” for girls my age. I’ll be taking the blouse-fabric to an Indian tailor this week to get something made that is a little more “fresh.” Don’t want to be out of style on the many occasions I will undoubtably have to rock my Sari!

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Uttam is all ready for Staff Recreation in his yellow team gear. I cheered from the sidelines.

So, this Memorial Day as we remember the many who fought for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, let us not forget the many others living poverty around the world who don’t have those same opportunities and freedoms.  I’m thankful for these students and the amazing stories that they share on behalf of the voiceless children still oppressed by hopelessness.

If you would like to sponsor a child through Compassion International, either click on this link here, or on the banner that appears on the sidebar of our blog.  Or, if you would like to become part of the story of one of Compassion’s amazing Leadership Development Students, you can click here to become an LDP sponsor.

Bandwagons: The No ‘Poo Method

Sometimes I feel like half my blog posts are about what I learned by jumping on this or that bandwagon, and today is no different. I saw this “No ‘Poo” thing mentioned on a few blogs and facebook statuses, and was curious.

Let me just say that I hate the unfortunate moniker ‘No Poo’. I mean, the very last thing I need in my life right now is to form more sentences with the word “Poo” in them. See also: life with toddler.

ANYWAY, the No ‘Poo concept is this: Modern shampoo is too harsh and actually wrecks your hair everytime you wash it. Modern conditioner is nothing but a poor chemical stand-in for all the natural hair oil that you just washed out. So some people are discontinuing hair washing entirely, just scrubbing their heads in the running water. Some are washing with baking soda and vinegar. Here are all the purported benefits:

  • Reduces use of petroleum-based stuff.
  • Less plastic waste.
  • Less chemicals washed down the drain.
  • Saves money.
  • Hair has more body.
  • Hair is shinier.
  • Hair is less frizzy.
  • Hair is less oily, and needs less washing.

I was intrigued. I’m kind of in a phase of trying to reduce or eliminate chemicals that I can’t pronounce from my environment.  But lets be honest here, I really only care about the last four on the list, all pertaining to my HAIR.  I would be totally uninterested in saving the environment but having worse hair.  Come on.

So, I decided to give it a whirl.  The process is simple. I use a tablespoon of baking powder mixed in a cup of water in place of shampoo.  For conditioning, I’m using a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a cup of water.  I keep these in two little squeeze bottles in the shower, and that amount lasts me about two washes. People use an array of different recipes, and some use fancy stuff like lemon juice for conditioning.

I’ve been doing this for weeks now and you know what?  IT WORKS. At first I couldn’t even believe it.  My hair is unbelievably LESS frizzy.  I mean, like basically not frizzy at all.  And y’all, I’ve had frizzy hair since 1995.

I really did blow my mind at first. What about all the shampoo/conditioner marketing, pretty bottles, descriptive labels, detailed descriptions of how to apply each product?  Is all that a sham?  I don’t know, but I can honestly say that the baking soda/vinegar method works.  My hair is clean just like with regular shampoo, and yet better and happier. Seriously, baking soda?

Last weekend I went to an outdoor wedding where it was 92 degrees and 110% humidity.  Air so thick you could cut it with a knife.  See pic below. Yeah, my hot roller curls fell out, but no frizz.  I proudly marched around in a sea of other folks’ frizzy heads.

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What are the downsides? Well, one morning I accidentally made my baking soda solution with baking powder by accident. That turned out kinda weird and gross. So there’s that risk to deal with. The vinegar smells exactly like vinegar when you’re using it. That’s not awesome, but the smell does rinse out entirely. There’s no soap suds or foaming, and frankly the whole “Herbal Essences” shower experience is kinda gone. But I am 100% willing to deal with all of the above for better hair.

Here’s a real-time self-hair-portrait for further proof. I washed it two days ago, styled as usual, and haven’t really bothered with it since.

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I absolutely recommend you try this, if you have any complaints about the status of your own hair. Who knew something so cheap and simple could actually be superior?

Want more information? Try Simple Mom or Crunchy Betty. Now, go forth and experiment!

Foto Friday: Epic Tour of Hinds County

One Happy Friday recently, Bethany and I had a mini-reunion, that I’m going to memorialize right now in its entirety. 

First Ransom and I met her at a coffee house near our old digs in the Fondren district of Jackson, MS.  Bethany got her old standard – a peach yogurt smoothie.  I got my fav ‘local honey iced coffee’.

Then we walked over to the “Rainbow Grocery”, a place that makes Whole Foods look like a Super-Walmart.  We oogled the castile soap, looked for organic chicken feed, and bought Ransom $2 worth of dried cherries.  Which he devoured.  Then we dropped that kiddo off with his daddy and headed off for more adventures.

Bethany wanted to see the new house, so we did a couple of drive-by’s.  (We’re still just under-contract, 2 more weeks to go! Or more, who knows.)  In lieu of touring the house, I offered to give her a tour of the city.  And by city, I mean “hamlet”.  Population 2,000.  But seriously, as you are about to see, our future hamlet city is the most adorable thing ever.

First off, like any self-respecting Southern city, it has a square.  But this little city kicks it up a notch by have a picture-perfect water tower right in the middle.

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We *think* we saw a couple of film assistants walking around scouting locations, and I can’t say I blame them.  There are scene-worthy views around every corner.  How ’bout this courthouse?

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How ’bout this adorable Catholic church?  I think it was built in 1880 or something.

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We walked through the tiniest Sunflower on the planet.  Totally adorable.  Next up, dinner at the brand new Taco Del Mar.  Let me list the extent of dining option in the little town, besides Taco Del Mar:  To-go hibachi place, Sonic, Subway, a local greasy spoon, and Pizza Hut.  I believe the church-to-restaurant ratio may be slightly off.  There are a bunch of churches, so just where do these good folks eat for Sunday lunch?  Home? Heavens.

Okay.  We’re not done yet.

After dinner we drove back through the campus of Mississippi College, Bethany’s alma mater.  Driving past the science building, Bethany just couldn’t contain herself.  We had to go in.  Luckily a young lad in the lobby thought we looked trustworthy and let us in the building at 8pm on a Friday night.

As we wandered through the halls, who should pass but Bethany’s old advisor, working late obviously.  He was SUPER excited to see her and insisted on giving us a tour of the entire new biology building.

Oh yeah, ps, Bethany, the personal assistant by day and freelance violinist by night, has a B.S. in Biology.

So we are ducking in and out of fancy new labs, checking out the fan-tabulous light switches, and so forth, when we finally reach the pinnacle of the tour.  Good thing Bethany took a photo because there are no words:

cadaversOkay, some words.  Bethany and Dr Advisor are having this really excited discussion of how awesome all this is.  I’m having an internal dialog that goes something like:

“Did they just bring me in a room with a bunch of dead bodies?”

“Could there be any other logical explanation for why those white bags are shaped like bodies?”

“What just happened here?”

The answer are: Yes, they did.  No there isn’t.  And I have no idea.  The END.

Not really, we went back to the original coffee shop to brainstorm on blog stuff and take pictures of our bangs.  Bethany had another peach yogurt smoothie (badly made this time) and I had a hot tea. A full day. HAPPY WEEKEND Y’ALL!

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My Grandfather’s Books

The whole “Nature vs. Nurture” war has been raging for years and personally, I think there is a strong case for the effects both elements have on a person.  But no matter how you spin it, I’m pretty sure my love for the written word comes at me from both sides.  It’s in my blood, and deeply woven into my web of experience as well.  And now I work for an author.  Another stretch of my life path, with books for pavers.

I lost my grandfather eleven years ago next week.  He was elderly and had severe respiratory problems caused by years of smoking back in the days before people knew that smoking wasn’t safe.  They say that time heals all wounds, but I’d have to disagree on this point.  I think I miss my grandfather more as the years go on and I grow older and become more and more aware of the unique person he was.  I wish I could sit down and ask him a whole slew of questions that it never occurred to me to ask.  I wish I could hear his reaction to the adventures I’m having as an adult and to the ever increasing discoveries of modern technology and medicine.  I wish he could meet my husband.  He would love my husband.

My grandfather taught me lots of things as a kid.  Like how to spell “squirrel.” And how to say “Lemon Yellow Lollypops” when I was having trouble differentiating between the “L” and “Y” sounds.  And once, in the days before Google & the Internet, we sat down with a pencil and a sheet of lined notebook paper and from memory wrote down all 50 states of the United States and then put them in alphabetical order.  He asked me questions and listened when I answered, no matter how silly or long-winded my answer might of been.  And in between all that, he read books.  Lots of them.  He was ever in “his chair” with a book in hand and a crossword-puzzle as a bookmark.  My mother read to me in the womb….and every night of my childhood thereafter until I was able to take over and read to myself.  And even then, she continued to read to me when my eyes were too droopy with sleep to process the words, but the story too enticing to abandon.

My favorite photo of me with my grandfather, George Wilhelm Christophersen.

My favorite photo of me with my grandfather, George Wilhelm Christophersen.

My uncle is an author and an avid reader (as well as a gifted fiddle player).  In fact, he’s many times earned his paycheck writing reviews of other people’s books for various newspapers and magazines…the perfect combo for an author/reader.  This past weekend, when I was visiting my parents for Mother’s Day, he decided it was time to comb through my grandfather’s vast library.  He kept a large stack of books, and the rest came to me to keep or sell to the local used bookstore. Some of the sorting process was easy…pulling out classic works that weren’t yet a part of my personal collection that I’ve always wanted to read.  The yellowed copy of “Nicholas Nickleby” for instance, that I used to beg my grandfather to read to me; undaunted at age five by it’s 939 pages.  Tucked helpfully inside is an equally yellowed index card listing a “Who’s who” of the story’s characters in my Grandfather’s eloquent script.  But then it became more difficult.  All the volumes of PD James that I have no desire to read, but that I can’t seem to part with either.  Some of my earliest memories are of carefully running my fingers over all the book bindings on my grandparent’s bookshelf, thrilled at the thought of the mysteries and glorious tales those volumes might contain.  When I imagine their house, Michner’s “Texas” is an integral part of the decor.

Some of my grandfathers books.  His formal education was brief, but he had a life-long passion for learning...even teaching himself Spanish in his late eighties.

Some of my grandfathers books. His formal education was brief, but he had a life-long passion for learning…even teaching himself to read Spanish in his late eighties.

So while I may never crack open any of them, the works of John leCarre will probably take up residence next to whatever popular fiction my book-club is currently reading, at least for a while.  These books to me are happy ghosts of years past; comfort items that remind me of when life was simple and the highlight of my week was story-time at the Burleson Library.  As I write this, I glance up from my screen and scan the bindings of the hundreds of books that sit displayed on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves Keith and I had custom-built into our front room last Spring.  My grandfather would have loved those bookshelves.

*****

“I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness lent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.”

-Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954)

To Our Mamas

Something about Mother’s Day weekend always seems to bring me and Mary-Hall together.  Last year, we had a last minute visit in Columbus which was lots of fun.  This year, we had our very first blog mini-meeting and a random Friday night out.  But we’ll tell you about that later.  Today we just want to keep it simple and salute the two fabulous ladies that brought us into this world.

Dear Mom,

Thanks for doing all the cooking, shopping, washing, transporting, teaching, entertaining, science projecting, stepping on Legos, supporting, visiting, maintaining, and organizing, and everything else.  I don’t know what I would do without your constant voice of encouragement in my life.  You are the best Mom & Smokey and I look forward to all our future adventures!

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Love, Mary-Hall

Momma,

So many memories come to mind today…of all the ways you indulged me, disciplined, taught, loved, guided and encouraged.  The hours of homework you helped with…the countless musical recitals and other competitions.  And all the other many ways you are fabulous.  Thank you for the influence you have been on my life!  I love you lots and lots!

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Crabbing in New Jersey, Visiting cousins in Wichita, Kansas and rocking a tan colored vest that may or may not be hanging in my closet at this very moment.

Love, your little Bethany Jean

A Local Adventure

Some people around this blog are bebopping to India and Brazil, while some other people, ahem, will be keeping things a little more local. And that doesn’t mean there aren’t adventures to be had. No sir!

Three weeks ago my husband said, “Want to do the Bluz Cruz with me next weekend?” What? He does that race like almost every year with a friend, in our old beat-up blue canoe. Its a 22 mile paddle race down the largest river in the US – the mighty Mississippi. And last mile is against the current. Yaay.

Then he said, “We have to do it, my picture’s on the t-shirt.” Game changer!

bluzcruz12013 T-shirt & the originals in 2011, husband in rear

And you know what, why not? Boy scouts and old ladies do it every year too. I felt confident that we wouldn’t have to be towed in by the safety boat.  So that is how I ended up in a casino parking lot in Vicksburg, MS at 6AM on a Saturday morning.

By 8AM we had been bussed north to a boat ramp where we prepared ourselves for the upcoming adventure.  This year’s race had a great turnout, 90 total boats, but only 7 were canoes.  The rest of the people are smarter and bring kayaks.  Kayaks cut through the water with grace and ease.  Heavy aluminum canoes kind of plod along.

bluzcruz2Where’s Waldo? Upper left, yellow life jacket, arms crossed, looking useful.

At some point we put our boats in the water and then they honk a car horn at you, which means GO!!!  So off we went.  The first 6 miles or so were wild and windy.  We were facing two-foot swells at least.  I felt like just like Gilligan on that fateful trip.  The skipper in the rear did a great job of not getting too frustrated with me, though I was always paddling on the wrong side and threatening to flip us.

bluzcruz3Perfect Facebook header photo.  We’re farthest left in the middle of the frame.

The river actually had a current of ~5mph that day, and our measly little paddling just added a couple extra mph on top.  NOT for lack of trying though.  We really wanted to beat this one other canoe, but we quickly realized that was not in the cards for 2013.  Still, we gave it all we had – for 3 HOURS.

I distracted myself from the muscle pain by singing “Just around the Riverbend” in my head and attempting to channel Pocahontas herself.  Never been one for “arm strength” per se.

bluzcruz4Great wind-in-the-bangs shot. ‘Cuz we’re moving so fast.

A big part of the race is actually knowing how to ride the river most efficiently.  Its faster in some spots than others, shielding from the wind, yak yak yak.  Ask August about it.  Good thing this was his 4th (6th?) race.  All I know is, I was basically only allowed to paddle on the left side for the entire trip.  The river is so stinkin’ large that once all the kayaks pass out of site, I basically felt like we were going zero mph and would likely be towed in after all.

But, the sun did come out, the waves chilled out, and we made it.  Once the big bridge is in sight, you’re almost there!  All that’s left is a 1-mile upriver stretch on a tributary called the Yazoo.  FUN!

bluzcruz5We have sections of FunNoodle on the sides as bump guards.  Classy!

As I mentioned, one canoe was WAY past us by now.  But right as we were heading up the Yazoo, a second canoe that had been behind us the whole way was edging around in some kind of superfast miracle current.  They passed us. Then we got back in the lead.  Then them.  Then us.  Then RIGHT at the FINISH LINE, it was like a fullspeed ahead duel to the death.  OMG my arms were about to fall off and I don’t know if August was paddling that hard but I was sure as heck going to give it my best shot.  We won by 1 second!

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Here’s the sad/bad/silly/nutty part.  That other boat was a man…. and his kid!  Yes, I gave it my all and beat a kid by 1 second.  August says he was thinking about letting them win.  I wasn’t because I figured they were in a different class.  The race offers Male, Female, and Mixed classes, and obviously we were in mixed.  Apparently a man and a boy are mixed as well.  Because at the award ceremony, they did in fact get 3rd place behind us.  Then I felt a little bad.

Here’s a shot of the kid looking cute and a little concerned about the crazy lady in the other canoe.

bluzcruz6Better luck next year kiddo.

Oh well.  Its a hard-knocks life, is it not?  I do feel kinda bad.  On the other hand, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place all get the same thing – awesome handmade trophies.

bluzcruz7All pics for this post except this one are from the official Bluzcruz photographer.

And later that day, I couldn’t even lift my arms over my head to wash my own hair.

Nerdery addendum: Through the miracle of technology, my skipper husband collected the following GPS track of our progress. Although it looks like we paddled right across a sandbar, the river level was actually WAY up on race day.  We did keep her in the water.

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