November 25, 2010

Happy Slapsgiving!*

***Scheduled Post***

One of the things I love about a blog is being able to quickly look back and reference past moments through the beauty of the internet. In looking back at last year's Thanksgiving, I had a lot to be thankful for - everything from friends and family to Joe Mauer's MVP status with the Minnesota Twins.

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful - a time to remind one another that amidst the craziness of our day-to-day lives we really are doing okay. Everything is going to work out - we are going to figure out what it all means and in the mean time, we are enjoying each others company.

This year I am thankful for my endlessly supportive parents.

I am thankful that no matter how fast my brothers' lives are changing, we will always have a place that we can go back to and remember what it was like to grow up together.

I am thankful for the opportunities to travel that I have experienced in the last year. From Ecuador to Colombia and Los Angeles to Cuchara, Colorado, the last year has meant new places with new experiences.

I am thankful for the freedom to make my own choices about what happens next in my life.

I am thankful for friends-like-family here in Colombia who make it a little less sad to be away from home over so many birthdays, get-togethers, and holidays.

I am thankful for the people who knew me when I was young - the people who know that the woman I am today is a (hopefully improved) version of the girl I used to be.

I am thankful for music and the role it plays in my life. The older I get the more I appreciate the lyrical geniuses out there with the ability to write songs that so many people can identify with. I am thankful that sometimes those lyrics express my current thoughts better than I ever could.

I am thankful for hope. For the blessed idea that we can wake up everyday and hope against all odds that anything can happen, anything can be.
I am thankful for this crazy, beautiful, unpredictable life we live.

All my love,

*Title inspired by one of the best shows on TV right now, How I Met Your Mother. Check out the Slapsgiving clip from last year here.

November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Shenanigans

Happy Thanksgiving!!! I love this holiday because it is really just about being thankful, spending time visiting with friends and family, and eating delicious food! Since many of us are traveling over the long weekend, we managed to celebrate a lot around here this week!

We started things off last weekend at our co-workers' house for a Thanksgiving potluck dinner. This worked out great because everyone volunteered for what to bring, which meant everyone brought something they make really well! I made green bean casserole with the french onions my mom sent last year from the States (cannot find them in Colombia!), so that was super yummy. Aside from the beans, people made potatoes, stuffing, carrots, cranberry sauce, desserts and the hosts made four turkeys!

The dinner was absolutely delicious, and as usually happens here in Colombia, the talking soon gave way to an impromptu dance party!

One of four turkeys made by our hosts, Mike and Mandi!

Bad photography but delicious Thanksgiving dinner! party!

The party continued last night with a celebration at school with the entire K-12 faculty. Another potluck event, but this time everyone is just assigned something to the quality isn't quite as good, but still a fun event. A great way to share celebrate a typically American holiday with our Colombian co-workers.

Hana, Beatriz, Kelsi and I at Thanksgiving dinner.

The celebration finished today with our all-school assembly. Always a bit of a disaster-case since all 1,300+ students are in one place, but still a cool celebration of our school community. My favorite part is when the seniors walk in at the end holding the hands of the pre-primary kids! Adorable :)

Tomorrow I am off to the Caribbean Coast of Colombia for a not-so-traditionally-Midwestern Thanksgiving with my friends Kelsi and Tara. The idea is basically just to relax and come back ready for one of the hardest times ever to be a teacher - the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am excited to soak up the sun a little bit, since the weather in Cali has been so rainy and dismal lately, however it won't be the typical Thanksgiving weather...

View of the beach where we are headed! (Rincon del Mar)

View of the backyard right now at my house in Minnesota!! Not quite the same...

Happy Turkey Day friends!!

November 22, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Movies

Over the past few months the rain in Colombia has been pretty incessant. No major side affects, other than personal sadness, so far, but it is starting to get to many of us that we live in this tropical country where the sun hardly shines! Last week I wore a long sleeved sweater and pants to work! Sad face. :(

Kelsi and I are combating the glum state of the outdoors with what has quickly become a Sunday afternoon ritual at the movies. There is a Cine Colombia movie theater in pretty much every mall in Cali, and we have visited several of them, but Palmetto Plaza is definitely the favorite. With a Crepes & Waffles, frozen yogurt stand, and two Juan Valdez options (both outside and INSIDE the theater), what's not to love? Did I mention Sunday afternoon matinee movies are only $4,700 pesos, or about $2.50 USD. Ah-mazing.

Here are some of the movies we have been seeing:

Due Date (Todo Un Parto)

I think my reactions are similar to this blogger's when she said: "Maybe there is such a thing as too much Zach Galifianakis." I mean, I loved him in The Hangover, but this movie was insanely ridiculous. However, any time he incorporated the phrase "You better check yourself before you wreck yourself" it made us laugh hysterically.

The Other Guys (Policias de Repuesto)

Saw this one last night. We just had to see Mark Wahlberg, because... well you know, plus Will Ferrell! LOVE. In summary it was actually a pretty ridiculous movie without a sustainable plot line that I don't know if I would have paid $9 to see in the states. However, at one point Mark Wahlberg danced ballet, so there's that. Also, TLC lyrics were quoted several times - random.

Life As We Know It (Bajo El Mismo Techo)

Loved it because I love Katherine Heigl and the guy who plays opposite her in this movie is hysterical and adorable, so...Josh Duhamel = awesome.

The Town (Ciudad de Ladrones)
Ben Affleck wrote, directed and starred, so if you like him you will love this movie. He plays the usual brooding bad boy, which he does so well, so that makes the movie pretty enjoyable right there. However, the rest of his castmates do a stunning job with their roles, even Blake Lively (from Gossip Girl!). Also, the whole plot line was pretty interesting, and they attempt to steal money from the New York Yankees, so you know...WIN.

What else have you been watching lately?? And no, I am not seeing Harry Potter part whatever even though it is in theaters here. Just not into it...still.

November 21, 2010

The time I wished for winter boots in Colombia.

When I suggested hiking Nevado del Ruiz on our trip to Manizales, Kelsi and I figured it would challenging, but full of awesome views of the surrounding mountainside. Several friends have completed the journey and their pictures made it seem manageable, so why not?

The highest volcano on the central range of the Andes Mountains, the Nevado del Ruiz stands at 16, 732 feet above sea level. This still-active volcano last erupted in 1985, killing more than 20,000 people, and now often called "the sleeping lion of Manizales".

We set out early on Sunday morning dressed in the warmest clothes we own in Colombia, full of water to attempt to avoid altitude sickness, and ready for a full day. After driving about an hour from Manizales we stopped at Laguna Negra for breakfast, then continued another hour and a half in the van to El Refugio, the snack shop at 15,748 feet. From here you typically are able to walk uphill to the flag pole or summit. However, on the day we visited the entire area beyond El Refugio was roped off and no one was allowed to wander uphill. The snowy conditions made for extremely limited visibility and hiking any further was much too dangerous.

Freezing cold!

The snow and hail fell almost the entire time we were at the top of the volcano and made our hour long stay there quite chilly. Needless to say, we were disappointed about not getting to actually hike, but all things considered we didn't really feel like venturing too far from the wind-sheltered van.

Seeing the Nevado definitely felt weird, since I haven't seen snow like that, or really been cold in that way in almost eighteen months. The experience confirmed by belief that living in Colombia has made me less tolerant of the cold. I am reasonably concerned I will spend a large portion of my Christmas vacation in Minnesota feeling positively numb to the snow and ice!

Check out the video below to observe some of our adventures at the top of this snow-capped mountain - basically us being freezing cold and me teaching Kelsi how to make a snow man. Enjoy! :)

November 20, 2010

Finding Good Coffee in Colombia

I don't drink coffee every morning before school. Mostly because I have yet to acquire a taste for plain black coffee, or even cafe con leche (coffee with milk). Also, I do not really like the idea of being dependent on something to "wake me up" each morning, however much I might benefit from it on some days!

Then again, I do love me some coffee in a big way. There is just something so delicious and soothing about this drink that we have come up with a million different ways to prepare. And honestly, I just love the idea (and actualization) of being a regular at a coffee shop. When I arrived in Colombia I knew there was good coffee to be found, but this is not immediately apparent. Since so much of Colombia's coffee is exported for profit, very little of the actual coffee in Colombia is good to drink.

In an attempt to search out some of the "good stuff" Kelsi and I started our visit to Manizales, a small mountain town about six hours from Cali, with a tour at Hacienda Venecia. Situated in the foothills of the central range of the Andes Mountains, at about 5,000 feet above sea level, this operating coffee finca is a prominent force in the Eje Cafetero, or the "Coffee Axle" of Colombia. Their coffee is specifically labeled as "cafe de origen" or in other words, coffee directly from the source.

We began our tour by learning that coffee originated in Ethiopia and has since spread out around the world to be grown in warm weather mountainous climates between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer.

There are two main types of coffee - arabica and robusta. During the tour we did a smell comparison of the beans from both types and noticed that the arabica beans smell a bit sweeter than their more bitter-tasting counterparts. Also, our guide told us another distinct difference is that robusta coffee tends to have more caffeine per bean. Hacienda Venecia produces a variety of arabica coffee called washed arabica, which basically just means the beans are washed several times before being dried and stored for exportation.

Starting things out at an appropriate place - next to the very first advertising poster for Juan Valdez AKA Colombian Starbucks.

Kelsi sorts through a pile of beans to find the best beans for roasting. This process is usually done with machines, but in some cases it is done by hand for maximum quality. Also - I had no idea coffee beans were green until you roasted them!!

In the end the "bad" beans are kept here in Colombia to be used for the coffee sold pretty much anywhere in the country that is not Juan Valdez. Awesome.

The full, good beans are exported to places like the United States, Germany, Spain, France and Italy. These are the beans we sorted as "good" enough to be roasted!

Hacienda Venecia covers a lot of ground with all of their coffee plants, production, on-site hotel and hostel, so our walking tour was quite extensive. Please note the adorable green ponchos to avoid the almost daily rains experienced in this part of Colombia.

One year old baby coffee plants - waiting to be placed in the ground to begin producing at the end of the second year.

Coffee cherries (yes, I also did not know that coffee beans came from the inside of coffee cherries) being washed for the first time.

Braving the humidity in the drying room where the coffee is completely washed and dried before being placed in bags.

For only $25,000 pesos (or about $13 USD) a day at the coffee farm was a day well spent in educating ourselves about this important resource for Colombia. Second only to Brazil, Colombia produces the most coffee in Latin America, and remains a vital source of income for many in this region. At the end of the tour we tried to buy coffee to take home, but many tours went through that day, so we settled for our very own Hacienda Venecia burlap coffee bags to one day hang on the walls of our "grown-up" houses.

November 14, 2010

Field Trip to San Vicente

I blogged about our mini-convivencia (community building day) at school last week. After that day we headed to San Vicente with four buses of 89 students and nine chaperones for a two day field trip.

Despite initial complication during which the buses showed up to school late and I was incredibly annoyed before the trip even left school, things improved quickly. As always, I loved spending time with my students outside the classroom and thank goodness, these students are even better behaved than last year's! Amazing!

Students stayed in cabins and during they day spent time in activity groups going on a waterfall hike, rappelling, going on the zip line, and hanging out in the thermal pools. At night we had an inter-group dance competition to the song "I like to move it, move it" and then the next night the first and second places teams (my group included) had a face off! My students danced to "Thriller" and watching them practice and perform was definitely a highlight of the trip!! Basically...they are just so awkward at this age in life, but at the same time, dancing is very cultural so they all know how to do it...just some look more natural than others. And they won the competition so we had a pizza party at school this week!
Ready to hike with the girls in my group!! Boys are too cool for boots...
That's me on the zip line!
Massive amounts of mud.
Thriller zombies!

My activity group of students rocked and we had an awesome time! They didn't complain once about activities or time and they were super supportive of each other. Seeing them cheer each other on during rappel was another highlight! And watching them help each other out of all the mud puddles on the waterfall hike!

On the way home we once again ran into bus troubles, but despite everything we only arrived home an hour late and per usual, the students took it all in stride better than the teachers. :)

November 13, 2010


Last week the entire 8th grade spent time on a field trip in San Vicente. However, back at school things were anything but dull. This year, my school played host to High School Binationals. This annual event is hosted each year by one of the ten international schools in Colombia that participates in the games. During the week-long event schools from around Colombia play against each other in soccer, tennis, golf, softball, basketball and volleyball.

We arrived back from the field trip on Friday night to discover that my school was set to play in five championship games on the final day, Saturday. Arriving at school by 9 am we watched boys softball, girls basketball, and boys volleyball take second place, while both the soccer teams came in first!! Yay!
Boys softball.
Boys volleyball.
Boys soccer.
Mascot during half time of the soccer game.

People wandered around campus all day enjoying the games and the assorted food stands. I saw a ton of students there, from both high school and middle school, and parents too! A great day to be a member of our school community.

November 12, 2010

Happy Birthday Kelsi!

Yesterday my roommate Kelsi turned 28 and we celebrated before, during and after school! We started the day off with some eggs and toast for birthday breakfast in Buddha bowls. Buddha bowls are made by a Canadian company and they are made to sit perfectly in the palm of your hand! Perfect for oatmeal, coffee, tea, soup or whatever. Kelsi mentioned she wanted one sometime last year, so I bought them (you had to buy at least two!) online and had her sister bring them down in September.
The Buddha Bowl!
Birthday breakfast!

I decorated our apartment the night before with Feliz CumpleaƱos (Happy Birthday) balloons, neon green streamers and taped up a list of 28 fabulous things I love about Kelsi around the apartment walls.

At school Kelsi's students opted out of the traditional "Let's throw our teacher a surprise party for her birthday that is really more of a party for us and less for her" and instead were just nice to her all day long and brought her presents! So cute :)

Last night we finished the birthday celebration with a few friends over for sangria, wine and desserts. Kelsi made her famous sangria and I crafted some brownies with Brazilian nuts in them - and we ate them with Juan Valdez Mocacchino ice cream. Soooooooooo delicious. No wonder I woke up this morning with a stomachache!
Blowing out the candles on the birthday brownies!!
Roommate love...and rosy cheeks me.

This weekend the celebration continues with a mini-getaway to the mountain town of Manizales, Colombia. Set in the heart of the coffee region and about a six-hour bus ride from Cali, this town is famous for coffee farms and the snow-capped Nevados Mountains - we plan to visit both!

Until Monday - stay fabulous friends :)

My Thoughts on Committed

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

I finished this book awhile ago, but I wanted to wait until another round of book club to post my thoughts. However, book club never happened in October or November, so here you are! I loved Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and so I picked up her latest novel, Committed.

In the book Elizabeth tries to come to terms with the idea of marriage. She is abruptly forced into the idea of marriage at the beginning of the book so that her boyfriend, Felipe aka the Brazilian guy from Eat, Pray, Love, will be allowed to stay in the Unites States for extended periods of time. Her first marriage ended in a terrible divorce so she doesn't really like the idea of doing it again.

Throughout the book she discusses marriage from many perspectives, including ideas from history, other (non-western) cultures, commitment, etc. Here are a few of the lines I found particularly thought-provoking:
  • A therapist friend of mine defines this problem simply as "the condition by which all of my single patients secretly long to be married, and all of my married patients secretly long to be single."
  • If you honestly want to have a society in which people choose their own partners on the basis of personal affection, then you must prepare yourselves for the inevitable. There will be broken hearts; there will be broken lives.
  • This is the singular fantasy of human intimacy: that one plus one will somehow, someday, equal one.
As a single woman reading the book helped me to see new ideas about commitment, relationships and marriage from kind of an "outsider" perspective. A great book and one that you can always put down after a chapter and come back whenever!

November 1, 2010

Renteria! Renteria!

The 2010 baseball season is over and the San Francisco Giants are the World Series champions! First championship for the team in San Francisco and first for the franchise since 1954! I would have loved for the series to go all seven games, but that is just the die-hard baseball fan in me who feels like spring training 2011 is years away. Overall, the series was great and showed fans that starting pitching will always be what wins ball games. And at the end of the day, I'm happy with any team that is not the New York Yankees. :)

Of special note, congratulations to Edgar Renteria, one of few Colombian players in Major Leagues, on the three run winning home run for the Giants! Major League Baseball named him the 2010 World Series MVP!!! Exciting for him and exciting for Colombia!

And now...only 120 days until players report for Spring Training 2011.

Bonding: Part One

Last Tuesday at school we copied last year's mini-convivencia about excellence and spent the day focusing on a theme of excellence as we prepared the students for this year's San Vicente field trip.

Throughout the school day students spent time in various rotations participating in activities related to academic, social, inter-personal and intra-personal excellence. Since a commitment to excellence is part of our school mission statement we wanted to get students actively thinking about what they can do to be excellent everyday. Also, since we had Monday off school, one day of school on Tuesday, and then a field trip Wednesday to Friday, no one was really up for teaching on Tuesday. :) Just one more reason I love the team of teachers I work with.

Just like last year I helped lead the social excellence activity where students completed a ropes course and climbed the big wall in small groups.
Ready to start the day! I love when my students take my camera and snap awkward pictures of me.
One group pulls their last member over the wall.
Crab walking on the ropes course!
Students explain what they learned in a closing assembly.

Overall we had a great day with the students and I left school feeling exhausted (after staying late to finish up more field trip details!), but excited for more 8th grade bonding in San Vicente. Photos to come...

A Few Treats & Lots of Tricks

Happy day-after Halloween!

While finding a great Halloween costume is sometimes difficult, I love celebrating the day with friends regardless of the costumes! It truly is one day out of the year when you can be whoever you want to be. The last two weekends have been full of Halloween celebrations that included me wearing my costume on three different occasions, and it was fabulous!

Kelsi and I debated lots of costume ideas this year, but in an impromptu day-of-the-party costume decision, we went to Tara's Annual Weekend-Before-Halloween Party as "Peace & Quiet" with me dressed as a hippie and her dressed as a mime. We pretty much had to explain or ask leading questions to everyone about how our costumes were related, but it was still a great idea! Tara held the party on her rooftop patio and hired a DJ for the event. Also, Hana and Beatriz helped decorate for the party and definitely used all their primary teacher craft skills to make the party quite festive. The majority of of our teacher parties end up including mostly gringos, but Tara invited pretty much everyone she has ever met in Cali, so the crowd was wonderfully diverse and super fun. Everyone came up with awesome costume ideas and we danced the night away!

Check out some of the sweet costume ideas my friends came up with...

Flash forward to Friday at school. Students and teachers came to school in costume and we held a middle school assembly where prizes were awarded for best costumes and the winners of the door decorating contest amongst students! My group of students didn't win, but my door looked totally awesome anyway! The students totally got into Halloween this year, even more than usual, so Friday at school turned out to be great fun. (Even if I did give a quiz to my students to say Happy Halloween!)

Students finish decorating my door.
Window decorations.
Happy Halloween kiddos! :)

To round out the festivities we went out on Saturday night to a costume party at a bar. We celebrated the end of Halloween weekend and our friend Enrique's birthday! However, by that point I was pretty much done with the hippie costume, so no photos... I do wish I would have had my camera at the bar though because we saw tons of awesome costumes! A whole group dressed up as Alice in Wonderland, Egyptian pharoahs & princesses, Mario Brothers characters, and more.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Halloween filled with delicious treats and your own brand of tricks!

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