In March, my 16-year-old stepdaughter, Barclay, and I spent a week volunteering at an orphanage in Costa Rica. The trip had been in the works for a year and was prompted by my desire to share an out-of-our-comfort-zone adventure before Barclay's free time was monopolized by college visits, boyfriends, and driving lessons.

As the trip neared, my anxiety mounted. Despite enduring four vaccinations before leaving, I realized there was no vaccine for jumping into the unknown. But as Frederick Wilcox said, "You can't steal second base and keep one foot on first." So after preparing as thoughtfully and thoroughly as possible, I took a deep breath, boarded the plane, and told myself I could handle whatever would come.

Of course, despite careful planning there is often a difference between our maps (mental and otherwise) and the territory itself. When Barclay and I arrived at our first host family's home - exhausted after 10 hours of travel - we quickly realized that the apartment was not the clean, safe accommodation we had been promised. I calmly called the program coordinator, and within an hour we were graciously relocated to a cleaner and more comfortable home.

I managed the logistics. Because Barclay wanted to practice the Spanish she was learning in school and was much quicker converting colones to dollars, I asked her to take the lead in these areas, even though it was a bit scary for us both at first. To my delight, Barclay thrived on the challenges and more than rose to the occasion - easily conversing with our host family and finding the right coins for bus fare. Watching her beam with pride when using her untapped strengths in a new culture was a postcard unto itself.

Just to keep things interesting, Barclay and I decided on the plane to San Jose that we would each do something on the trip that we didn't think we could do. Barclay managed her fear of snakes when one scurried across the trail we were hiking in a national park. And I managed my combined fears of heights, speed, and not being in control by spending two hours zip-lining down a mountain - eyes wide open! Gaining a sense of mastery in the wild enhanced our confidence in tackling tamer and more ordinary challenges back at home.

Though Costa Rica enjoys a good standard of living compared with other Central American countries, we certainly saw enough to be reminded of the bounty we often take for granted.

Now, when I'm having a difficult time at home or work, I recall Barclay, on our second day at the orphanage, turning to me with a 3-year-old boy in her arms saying, "Thank you. This is so much more rewarding than a regular vacation."

And my bucket runneth over.

Cheryl Rice writes from Erdenheim.