March 26, 2011

I can't be sure that this state of mind is not of my own design.

After a year and half in Colombia, the day-to-day of my life is much the same as any other 20-something with a full time teaching job. The everything-is-new-everyday feeling wears off eventually and it doesn't leave me with much to blog about on a daily basis. Yes, I could tell you about the new music I am listening to (Lori McKenna, new Matt Nathanson, Peter Bradley Adams, Trent Dabbs) how I am {embarrassingly} re-watching season one of One Tree Hill, how my students are stinking it up at learning geometry, how someone needs to take away my ability to online shop pronto and more... However, none of that seems particularly blog-worthy.

But this? This definitely does. One of my favorite bloggers (and fellow Minnesotan!) asked the question this week, what does it mean to be independent?

Short answer: To me, everything.

I want to do it by myself is pretty much my life theme. I want to plan the next vacation. I want to be financially independent. I don't want to spend my time delegating when I could just do it myself. I want to decide on the rules and have everyone else just follow them blindly. I don't want to lose myself in another person, relationship or experience. I want to go out there and work for my dreams. I want to accomplish something that means something. I want to be self-sufficient. I am fiercely protective of my heart. I want to think of all the reasons why perfectly lonely is perfectly happy. And I don't really want to ask for help along the way.

The thing is though...

Going at it all by yourself isn't really a great plan. At the end of the day, hard as it is {for me} to admit, we're human and that means we need each other A LOT. Actually, scratch that.

I need other people A LOT.

I need people to come home to at the end of the day. I need people who don't judge me for sassiness or a snarky attitude at the end of a long Monday at work. I need people who check to see if I got home safe at the end of the night. I need people to bounce ideas off of. To inspire me. To see something in me that I cannot even see for myself. I need people to remind me what I was like when I was young and nothing mattered more than going outside to play. I need people who can see the person I can be, the person I want to be, and help me get there. I need people to go to concerts with so we can sing at the top of our lungs and feel that rush of truly living. I need people {roommates} to sit on the couch with and watch Gossip Girl with. I need people to laugh until I cry with. I need people to travel with, to adventure with, to experience with. I need people to remind me that I need all these things. I need people to tell me it's okay to need all these things.

I need people to be brutally honest with me and tell me that independence isn't worth a damn thing if you aren't moving forward.

So I guess what I am saying is this: thank goodness I have people in my life who do all those things and so many more for me. Now I just need to get out of my own way more often.

March 21, 2011

Three Words for Japan

Some of you may have heard about the Three Words for Japan project discussed on ABC News. This project basically came about as a way to show support and encouragement for the people of Japan. We heard about the project from our friend Hana, who teaches second grade and has family in Japan right now. The idea was that the supplies, the food, the clothing, etc., while completely necessary, will not really be an immediate fix to the devastation of this natural disaster. However, something we can do to stand with Japan right here and now is to document our support.

Thus, Three Words for Japan videos have been springing up all over YouTube, and this is just the latest installment. You see a lot and hear a lot about my 8th grade students on this blog, but this will give you a sneak peek into Kelsi's 3rd grade classroom. She did this project with her students last week and this is the resulting video of their Three Words for Japan.


March 17, 2011

Summer Plans

{picture here - LOVE this!!}

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I hope you are finding a way to celebrate all things green, the start of March Madness and (almost) the end of another work week! This week has been super easy here at school because about half of the 8th grade (50 students) is away at a sports tournament in another city. Therefore, with fewer students and a condensed schedule I am more caught up on lesson planning, organizing my room, emailing parents, etc. than ever before.

With all this extra free time my mind definitely wanders to my favorite free-time activity >>> future trip/adventure planning! This morning I read this from two of my favorite travel bloggers and got the itch to plan new things. Also, one of my best friends from home just got back from a week long trip to the Pacific Northwest of the United States and her pictures look fabulous.

This spring will be filled with new adventures, including a spring break trip with Kelsi to Medellin and Rio Claro. We will spend a few days at a nature reserve by the river sleeping in a tree house type structure with only three walls before spending some time enjoying the sleek city life of Medellin. After that there are only a few shorts weeks until Anna visits from Wyoming for two weeks in Colombia! She will get to see a snapshot of my life in Cali before we travel a bit to the Pacific Coast and coffee region of Colombia.

And then and then and then it's SUMMER IN MINNESOTA!!! Ah I cannot adequately express my excitement for Minnesota summers; they are just seriously so fantastic! Something about being cooped up all winter long (okay not me exactly, but you know, people who actually live in Minnesota year-round) and then having all the snow melt away to the glorious sunshine is a serious three-month-long reason to celebrate. And celebrate we do - Minnesota style. With afternoons at the lakes, roller-blading along the river, happy hours on all your favorite patios, Cities 97 Oake on the Water, Grand Old Days, outdoor music, driving with the windows all the way down, Jamba Juice to beat the heat, bonfires, Twins games, grill-outs, my day of birth, etc, etc.

In addition to all the Midwestern summer-lovin' adventures I will be making a few trips around the US to see various friends and family. I definitely have a few days planned in Wisconsin, Wyoming and Washington state. Follow that up with two trips back to Minnesota in early fall for weddings and I will pretty much be a regular at MSP International Airport.

To answer your question, yes I love birthday presents in the form of plane tickets, thanks. :)

So >>> where is your next adventure leading you???

March 13, 2011

Over The Weekend

Happy daylight-savings-time friends! I know for all of you back in the United States this day means one less hour of sleep, but for me it means being on the same time zone as Minnesota and only one-two hours apart from friends in Wyoming and California. I love it and it makes Skype conversations much easier!

This has been another fun, eventful and relaxing weekend break from school. I am really starting to appreciate how much there is to do in Cali sometimes, even though there are other times when it all feels same old, same old. However, now is not one of those times :)

The weekend started at 3:00 PM on Friday with a post-conferences celebration at Mister Wings' two-for-one margarita happy hour. We cheered (is that even a word?!?) our glasses in celebration of the end of parent-teacher conferences and my friend Tara's new job in Indonesia. After happy hour we headed north on the Mio - just eight noisy gringos (Americans) on public transportation. Twenty minutes later we ended our journey at Cosmocentro, one of the many malls in Cali. However, Cosmocentro is definitely unique because their entire roof is devoted to.....go-carts.

Yes, go-carts. One of the things Tara said she always wanted to do before she leaves in Cali in June is to drive the go-carts at the mall. So, drive them we did, and the go-cart style motorcycles too! (Although much slower and more carefully!) Who knew go-carts could be so much fun as an adult?? I definitely had one of those laughing-so-hard-your-stomach-hurts moments for the duration of our driving time. :) We ended the night with more chatting on my friends' rooftop patio and finally made it home around midnight...still wearing the school clothes we put on at 6 AM that morning. A perfect post-school Friday celebration!

Saturday morning Kelsi and I made it to spin class at the new gym we are going to. Still in our neighborhood, a bit more expensive, but much nicer, we are totally happy with this new gym and their many class offerings. And despite his obsession with all things Lady Gaga, the Saturday morning spin instructor really did give a good workout. :)

Returning from the gym I finally connected with my friend Ilse in Uganda, who left Minnesota a month ago for her 2.5 year stint in the Peace Corps, and just recently got her Ugandan cell phone. I loved hearing her voice after such a long time and hearing first-hand that she is happy was absolutely fabulous. She is spending her days training for future placement within Uganda, learning the language and learning how to wash her clothes in a bucket. I am so so so proud of her and continue to remain in awe of her determination to just make the world a better place for everyone.

The afternoon found us watching season one of Gossip Girl as we sat Tara down and demanded she watch with us and be indoctrinated into the world of Chuck Bass. Around 8 PM, aka Colombian dinner time, we headed over to one of our favorite Cali restaurants, Platillos Voladores (Flying Saucers) because I cannot get enough of their tofu green curry dish. So delicious. :) The night ended with a celebration for our friend Martha's birthday as well as celebrating the return of her boyfriend from Switzerland where he was studying. Enrique is our go-to-guy for the up-and-coming nightlife scene in Cali, so we are super glad he is back.

Today has been filled with grading and catch-up conversation with my family. I talked to all three of grandparents for awhile and had a chance to Skype with my soon-to-be seven-year-old goddaughter Stefanie! After she adjusted to the idea of talking to me through the computer it was great to hear about what she is up to in school and what she has planned for her birthday party at school and home. One of the hardest things about living abroad is definitely missing the people at home, and this is only made all the more obvious when those people are young and change so much from day-to-day.

Overall this weekend reminded me once again of how grateful I am for friends and family, near and far, and the ability of the internet to make that distance feel just a bit shorter.

March 6, 2011

The Time I Spent An Entire Saturday at School Playing Bingo

On Saturday Kelsi and I made the trek to school for an annual fundraiser held to make money for some of the bus drivers and maintenance workers at our school. In the past, some of the money has gone to funding class parties for our already-well-advantaged students, so I was happier to participate knowing that the money went to a good cause.

Bolivar Day consists of tons of carnival games, those big giant jumpy castle things, arts and crafts, lots of food tents, free coffee slushy things and a four-hour marathon bingo session. Last year I played four hours of Bingo without winning any prizes, but still had a great time, so this year I was excited to participate again.

We got there at noon, Kelsi worked her shift at the primary carnival booth, we ate some lunch and settled in with our fellow teachers for some good old-fashioned Spanish. Attempting to keep up with our multiple playing boards and the numbers in Spanish proved challenging, but we made it work.....AND Kelsi, Hana and I all won!! I won big because I won when no one else called bingo, and thus I did not have to share my prizes. :) In my prize packet I received gift cards to some Cali restaurants, a set of grilling tools, a coffee maker (we needed a new one!) and a free nights stay for four people at Club Los Andes. The Club is basically like a country club where you can stay overnight. I looked it up online today and it is about one hour from where we live in Cali and looks super fun! They have a huge pool and water slides :) So one of these weekends we will have to head over there to check it out.

Overall - not a bad Saturday...even if I was technically at school for six hours.

The carnival games spread out all over the green spaces at school. Kelsi and I couldn't get over this matching father and son combo.

Ready for some bingo!

Showing off some of my winnings! I later gifted this grilling set to my friend Rob since we don't have a grill!

Me = happy with my win. Stetson = angry that he wasn't listening closely and missed out on winning because "sesenta y seis" (66) and "setenta y seis" (76) sound quite similar in Spanish.

Kelsi and Hana won at the same time! Thus, they shared their prizes with each other and this guy.

Thursday Night Rituals & Gossip Girl Games

{because he's chuck bass}

I'm a "show" person. I don't flip on the television to channel surf or have background noise or to fall asleep. But I definitely turn it on weekly (or in the case of Colombia, turn on my computer weekly) to watch my favorite shows. From the old stand-bys like Grey's Anatomy to new favorites like Modern Family, I love to immerse myself in the lives of my favorite characters for an hour each week.

One of my favorite things about shows is having friends to discuss them with. What's better than getting together with a bunch of your friends to discuss the latest in the life of Ted Mosby, Chuck Bass, Meredith Grey, Addison Montgomery-Shepherd, Jim & Pam or Sheldon Cooper? For me, shows are as good a reason as any to get some friends together at the end of another work day.

Since indoctrinating both Kelsi and our friend Mandi into the world of Gossip Girl, we have started getting together on Thursday nights to have some wine and watch the latest developments on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Thursdays are a good night to un-wind and get excited for the weekend ahead!

However, the CW network doesn't seem to understand the devotion we have for their little shows, so Gossip Girl is currently on a six-week hiatus, not to return until April 18th. What's a group of girls to do in the mean time??? Never fear. We are going to start watching the series over again, starting with Season One, Episode One. However, this time we are going to make note of the things our favorite characters do habitually; the little things that make each episode so fun to watch. We might just make a game out of it... ;)

A Weekend in San Vicente

Last weekend Kelsi and I took advantage of a Friday off from school to do some traveling to the coffee region. This has definitely become one of my favorite regions in Colombia because of the rolling patchwork hillsides, cooler weather and small town mentality.

We left from the Cali bus terminal on Friday morning and headed to Pereira, a city about four hours from Cali by bus. The road is mostly straight, so we actually got the chance to sleep and read a bit on the bus without feeling sick. From there we continued on the bus to the small town of Santa Rosa where some guy associated with the hot springs in San Vicente picked us up and drove us about another hour up into the mountains.

Upon arriving at the Termales de San Vicente we immediately noticed the drastic temperature difference from Cali and put on our long pants and fleeces! We spent the night in a two person room in one of the many cabins at San Vicente, ate our meals at the on-site restaurant and spent a lot of time in the hot springs! On Saturday we also took advantage of some of the spa activities at San Vicente. They offer a variety of things, like massages, fruit therapy, oats & honey therapy, sand peeling, mud therapy, etc. We opted for the sand peeling and oats & honey massage.

Our lodging for the weekend.

One of the two main hot springs pools where we spent significant time!

Hot springs pool.

The sand peeling made me a bit nervous at first to have my whole body (besides the face) covered in sand, but I totally loved it! The sand was really hot because the hot springs ran right underneath where we were laying, so we didn't get cold and our skin felt super soft afterwards.

Buried alive!

Oats & honey was also a good experience and made our super soft skin smell like a delicious bowl of oats!

Mmmmm oatmeal.

In between our spa sessions we embarked on a hike to a nearby waterfall. We originally waited around a bit for a guide to take us, because the people at the office insisted we needed a guide. However, when it became evident that we were going to be waiting a long time for a guide, I explained to them that I had already done the hike twice, both times with about twenty 8th graders on our annual field trip. Therefore, I was 100% confident in my ability to do the hike with Kelsi. After laughing at my insistence they let us go! We rented some boots to avoid the typically muddy paths, we headed off for the 90 minute round trip hike. The path was just as I remembered it, muddy and adventurous. We finished the hike in great time and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

Stuck in the mud. :(

Along the trail...

Freezing cold waterfall!

At the waterfall.

Sunday morning we headed back early, because we wanted to get home to work on schoolwork and watch the Academy Awards. A fabulous end to a relaxing weekend :)

March 2, 2011

Connections to Home & Updates

Well, February has come and gone and I wrote on this blog a total of three times. Oops! I really am not sure what has been occupying all my time on a daily basis, so hopefully I will have more to say in March!

Recent Updates
Things happening lately and things I am excited for in the future.
  • Over the long weekend that just passed Kelsi and I headed to the mountains for some relief from the Cali heat and spa time at the hot springs in San Vicente. (Blog post to follow!)
  • Seven short months after moving from Minnesota to Wyoming, my friends Anna and Andy got engaged!! Love them both so so so much and I am so excited :)
  • Annnnnnnnnnnnnd Anna bought her plane ticket to come visit me in Colombia at the end of the school year! We plan to spend some time in the mountains as well as some time on the Pacific Coast.
  • I bought my plane ticket home to Minnesota for the summer! Nothing like a little trip planning to get you motivated for the rest of the school year :)
  • My friend Katie and I bought tickets to see Sugarland in concert at Summerfest AKA the best outdoor music festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin! Outdoor music in the summertime - specifically country music is literally the best thing ever. I haven't been to Summerfest since I saw Keith Urban two years ago, so I am psyched to return.
  • I heard from my friend Ilse in Uganda. She left on February 10 for the Peace Corps in Uganda and after tw0 painstaking weeks I finally heard from her that she is alive, happy, well and living with a great host family!
  • Kelsi and I bought plane tickets to Medellin and have reservations at Rio Claro Nature Reserve for Spring Break! We will be staying in a tree house with three walls and one side open to the river below. Oh hey Swiss Family Robinson.
  • After tutoring all the time to pay my way through college, I really have been missing that one-on-one connection with kids that is hard to make in the classroom. Thanks to a hook-up from a fellow teacher, I am now tutoring two siblings, 6th grade boy and 5th grade girl, once a week each in math and loving it! I just love being able to work at the student's individual pace and not feel like I somehow need to find a balance for every kid in the classroom.
We went to our ladies only book club last week and I brought lots of things to share!
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - After getting through the initial 100 pages, I couldn't put it down. If you love mysteries or novels or just good writing, you must read this series!
  • The Girl Who Played With Fire - As good as the first one, but better. I read this book in two days because I couldn't wait to figure out what happened to Lisbeth Salander.
  • The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest - The saga continues. I read this book non-stop until it was done and then proceeded to watch all three of the Swedish movies with English subtitles. These books are just as good as everyone says they are. Lisbeth Salander is literally the female Jason Bourne and she basically rocks at it.
  • The Handmaid's Tale - A Margaret Atwood classic about what America would look like in a primitive, futuristic society where women are only kept around for their ability to reproduce. I had to read it in high school, but re-reading it as an adult was fascinating.
  • Power of One - Five year old Peekay grows up in South Africa at the start of apartheid and his journey to be a boxer is filled with funny characters and a great story of personal triumph.
  • Something Borrowed - I love Emily Giffin! Such a good author, and these two books tell the same story from two best friends' points-of-view. Sounds repetative and boring, but the story is anything but. Definitely a good beach or travel read that you can dive right into.
  • Something Blue - The companion to Something Borrowed.
  • Out of Captivity - I may or may not have cried like a baby on the bus coming home from San Vicente while reading the end of this book. This is the story of the three American men, Keith, Tom, and Marc who were held captive in the Colombian jungle by the FARC for 1, 967 days. Their plane went down while they were doing countranarcotic intelligence work for the Department of Defense, and they were only rescued years later by a covert operation led by the Colombian military. Lots of their time in captivity is spent with Ingrid Betancourt, whose books I also read, and who is a pretty controversial figure in Colombia so I loved hearing their take on things. Overall this book was a stunning insight into their personal will to survive in captitivity and remain the best of friends.
Awards Show Season
I wasn't ever that into awards shows when I lived in the United States, but living abroad I am so into them! They are just this huge connection to life back home, even if it is the lives of people I don't actually know.
  • After the Grammys I immediately get Lady Antebellum's new album and have been listening to it non-stop! I was so out of the music loop I didn't even recognize their song, Need You Now on Glee, but it was super good. I also cannot get enough of Something About A Woman - love those lyrics!
  • Also post-Grammys I am in love with the Avett Brothers when I need some good relaxing music to grade to. :) They just looked so adorable and psyched to be on stage singing with Bob Dylan that I loved them immediately.
  • Why oh why do we live in a society where Lady Gaga arrived to the Grammys in an egg and everyone thought it was hilarious?
  • FACT: James Franco is an awesome acter in Indie movies about a person stuck in a cave for 127 Hours. However, he is a pretty terrible Oscars co-host.
  • Not as bad a Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes who was terribly rude and basically made me forget how kind and adorable British boys can be.
  • Best moment of the Oscars? When James Franco's grandma exclaimed "I just saw Marky Mark."
  • Ryan Seacrest is actually the death of all that is good about live TV. If I wasn't so starved of good old fashioned U.S. celebrities, he would actually make me throw things at the TV. how's that for a random Wednesday of thoughts?

More conherent ramblings to follow soon...
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