Our 1st graders wear birthday crowns, so why can't I?
I wore my crown with pride the whole day. 
My recent birthday showed me just how much I love Peru.

Last year on my birthday, I was four weeks removed from a disastrous, five month visa seeking process. I was mentally exhausted. One week prior, I miraculously landed my job at school, but was working 70-80 hours per week. Between my new elementary school job and teaching at the language institute, I barely had the time to notice my birthday. I was still working through issues of culture shock, financial instability, language insecurities and thinking "Can I really do this?" My birthday passed calmly and quietly, with very little fuss.

As my birthday approached this year, I noticed one thing that was different: I was ecstatic. I couldn't wait to celebrate my birthday with all the people that are near and dear to me. The peace and joy that I felt with this birthday were completely opposite my feelings this time last year. When I noticed how differently I felt, I realized how much has changed in my life in Peru. I have worked through my culture shock, I'm financially stable, I feel comfortable in the language and I finally know that I indeed can and will continue to do this.

It was the birthday to top all birthdays, I had not one, not two but FIVE birthday cakes. How can you beat that?

1. Birthday cake with all the teachers at school
2. Another cake with my kids in the afternoon
3. That evening, the third cake in 12 hours at my fabulous surprise party pulled off by Alvaro and my friends
4. The next day, another cake with Alvaro's family
5. And finally, cake on Sunday morning at church

Alvaro pulled off the most amazing surprise party. Not once did I have the slightest suspicion regarding our plans for the evening. Up until the moment that the elevator door opened, I was convinced that we were simply stopping to pick up forgotten sunglasses and then on our way to dinner. When the door opened and everyone yelled "Surprise!" I was speechless. Well played, dear Alvaro, well played.

It was the perfect birthday. I felt loved and cared for in every aspect of my life. This milestone was the ideal way for me to see the progress that I have made in the year. That too was the best gift I could have gotten.