May 8, 2016

#48 - Where to now?

Dear Dubrovnik,

It's so interesting to reflect on where we start in life, and where our interests, friendships, and, efforts can take us each year. I was presenting up at Champlain College for accepted students day a couple weeks ago and ended up in the library looking for a book couldn't help but laugh a bit thinking how different it felt to be there now. I'd spent countless hours working away in that same library to make my dreams come true and I wonder (now) if I (back then) could even fathom me now, and where I've gotten and hope to go in life. I find  the more opportunities I create and take, the broader my perspectives grow, and the more intense my desire to 'do more' expands. 

It's been quite a while since I last wrote, but per usual, I always check in before my next trip... gotta dust off my adventure writing fingers...! So before I get into that I'll do a quick recap since my last posting about Mexico! I've taken on a very interesting degree in Executive Leadership which much like real leadership has soaring highs, and drowning lows. Despite the constant ebb and flow it has been an invaluable course for my role at work and life allowing a lot of time and focus on self- reflection and growth.

Such proud
We are also celebrating the ever nearing graduation of all my first round kiddos back from my first year as an RA at Champlain. My first co and I went up to the trustee dinner and surprised all our kiddos who were there, some getting awards, some giving speeches and others, eager to share their adventures and future endeavors. 
The kiddos <3
And though being an RA certainly hindered many aspects of my social, and sleep life at times, it really helped me grow into a more flexible, calm, understanding 'parent' leader, especially when helping people work through post-graduate job search nerves, and even being homesick. To anyone going through college, if you think you can manage the work-life balance, you will gain some amazing experience, friends and memories for the opportunity, not to mention save some $$ from all the mountains of loans that will make their prompt arrival post-graduation!

I'm currently enjoying a brief break from classes and will finish up the final two courses by the end of the summer. I also chopped off just over a foot of my hair and sent it to Wigs for Kids (my neck feels great and so does my conditioner budget!) 

Hard to get the length in the photo!
And as most people passing through their 20's and beyond may resonate, I can no longer eat any and everything and feel like a million bucks. So, I've been undertaking the Whole 30 program which helps to establish more control with food and identify areas that may trigger inflammation/ allergens/ or just plain old discomfort over 30 days. It was a bit daunting at first knowing I'd be removing foods and drinks I'd had for years, if not almost my entire life like pastas, grains, dairy and more, BUT, as I now approach my final day I feel better than ever without and tummy aches, more energy, great sleep, and a happier smile. 
My first trip to the store for complaint foods!
Looking back to week one I can only channel the thoughts of a fellow Whole 30er who described Week One as follows: "Anyone who's done this will tell you that your bloodlust for chips, sandwiches, and cake is all-encompassing and agonizing. You start craving foods that you didn't even know you liked: I had no idea how badly I wanted ice cream covered in BBQ sauce. The Whole30's rigidity in the "no-snacks" rule is the key though; it promotes a healthy way of eating and "deprograms" you from constantly wanting to stuff food in your mouth. Three meals a day, of just healthy stuff."
Walnut encrusted pork tenderloin, baked potato and spinache
Almond flour bbq chicken tenderns, brussel sprouts, and potatoes
And boatloads of water. Literally never drank more water in my life.

BUT, as with anything, you can get over that wall, and get to a place where you feel very in control which is a great feeling. Am I so stoked for that first ice cream back - you better bet I am, but I'm happy that I'm learning to better manage my foods and snacking as well as what foods make me feel crappy.

It helped me to re-fall in love with the way food tastes on it's own, and as I sit here writing to you hunched over a steamy spaghetti squash I'm happy to say it's helped me drop some of my food guards for the sheer sake of variety, and I've been happy with all the new things I've welcomed into my life, like dijon mustard and Franks Red Hot. 

Looking to tomorrow where I will complete the '30 days' I reviewed my non-scale victories to reflect on the various ways this food recall helped me in other areas of my life and really helped to affirm the tough moments and second thoughts when I could see all the benefits and positive results. 
Non-scale victories

Aside from food, the weather had been anything but consistent, which is perfectly normal for Burlington. This is a picture from 2 weeks ago, just chilling at the beach, not swimming, but sunning in the warm sand.

Yay for sunlight!
And this is literally one day later:
Boo it's back already

And then the following day:
Bravo little flowers for sticking it out through the snow!
 What do I want to be when I grow up? Well certainly something as resilient as the flowers that make their home in Burlington, VT! haha But onto the adventures! I'll be reuniting with a dear sister and host-sister of mine (who I haven't seen since I first departed for Croatia years ago) on a cold and magical island know as none other than Iceland! We've got quite a trip planned out and I've fully prepped (and raring) for the sun-full nights, long drives, countless tourists, and unexpected bumps that lead us to unique and memorable moments. It goes without saying travel has become something that brings me great joy and I feel very blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity. So as always get excited for some interesting stories and folklore which I fully intend to capture in full detail, good, sun-burnt, rainy, smelly or otherwise! In the mean time I have a couple smaller trips and will certainly check in about those before heading off!

I also splurged and got a front row seat to a show coming later this summer to see none other than one of my favorite actors Nick Offerman right here in town. I'm already preparing what I would say if I had the opportunity to talk with him....
Seen here with his solid oak, hand carved, wooden emojis.

Any who, I'll be writing again soon before we depart but wanted to get you up to speed on how things, stuff, and the weather have been here! :) Here's to a May full of bright flowers, puppies, friendly bees, an
d warm sunshine!

Until next time!

July 31, 2015

#47 - Mexican wedding time!

Dear Dubrovnik,

I find it interesting that people find love to be the most perplexing 'thing' we encounter in life. I find in my life it's not love but time that I find so perplexing. Where we dedicate our hours and minutes each day, to what tasks we idly sit in as the clock moves forward, and to what moments we allow to take our breath away. I always have felt that things happen for a reason, and though some find this outlook to be weak, surrendering my reason to chance, or fate so to speak, I find it fulfilling. The moments and experiences I get or don't get weave an interesting tale of eye-opening awe, and also opportunities to seek out yet another adventure.

While rejoining two old friends from Dubrovnik last week for said Mexican wedding, I saw a wide array of emotions, perspectives, and beliefs, and I find that every chance I get to have these new experiences I learn more and become happier because I get to share in the experiences, and appreciate the excitement and joy for all of the right reasons. I am so grateful to the Geringer and Gonzalez families for inviting me along for a week I won't soon forget. I don't know what I expected of Mexico but it certainly wasn't what I had in mind at all! I have a couple friends from Mexico though as with most home-towns, countries etc, I find people tend to down play just how amazing the place they call home is. Sometimes I wish those people could see things through my eyes because I do believe their is beauty in everything, place, and person - sometimes it just takes a tilt of the head, different perspective or a cold foreign beer to shape a new lens.

So off to Mexico! I took off the first week of my new job to go on a vacation so here's to it being completely worth it! ;) I took a Greyhound down to Boston, and yes, the price is worth it - so cheap - but I've got a couple comments about their passenger service I'll tell you about shortly. The ride was quite uneventful, we stopped halfway for a break and I picked up a paper with the headlines reading 'Top Drug Lord Escapes of Mexican Prison for Second Time.' Upon further evaluation it was indeed a prison about fifteen minutes from the capitol where we'd be meeting up but the more I read into it, the more I realized it wasn't really an escape so much as an 'accidental release.' As for danger? There really was no threat to speak of as why would a wanted, convicted fellow be out and about when they have hundreds of miles of underground ventilated and lit tunnels with motorcycle transport? - They wouldn't. We have better odds of being attacked by a pack of sharks wearing raincoats, or being flattened by a chandelier shaped like the house in UP than seeing said drug lord on the streets.

I asked the driver if the bus went to Boston Logan as I saw a schedule in the rest area that listed it and he said "Nope, this bus does not." I thought 'oh well, I can figure out Boston transit, I did it in Italian with people who are lazy and don't want to sell tickets... so this should be easy!' Oddly enough, we arrive to South Station and I could swear I heard the driver say - last stop, Boston Logan. So, when he re-boarded the bus, I asked "did you just say this bus goes to Boston Logan?" and he said "Yes, but not for you. You get off here." After trying to explain that's where I was going, I got off as he could not have given fewer shits about the fact that he wasn't honest. I don't care that I couldn't take it, though it would have been like 1:45 mins less dragging around luggage and buying tickets - but the fact that he couldn't have been honest and said "It does, but unfortunately your ticket stops at South Station." Grrr - that doesn't do any good! Anyway, other folks were very helpful in directing me through the labyrinth of stations elevators and back doors to get to the 'T.' After a short while we arrived at Logan and I found myself waiting for my hotel shuttle sitting next to none other than the lucky folks who were able to catch the bus directly to the airport. 

Next I was off to meet up with a Champlain friend to share some snacks and conversations about the reality of post grad job searching! I turned in at around 12:30 and got up just three hours later to catch a shuttle to my flight. As with all my early flights I doze in and out of spectacular views, and the captains comments about the weather below that we obv. can't see from 30,000 feet. Kinda like going on a date and the person talks about the weather outside when it's like 10PM and you're like okay... so you enjoy what hobbies?

The Mississippi! 
New Orleans! Haven't seen this place since 09'!

Over the Gulf!
When we got close to Mexico City is when I realized how vastly enormous the place is. For being somewhere between the 5th - 10th largest city with 21.2 million people (largest metropolitan city in the Western Hemisphere) I only understood this when I couldn't fit the skyline in the airplane window. In fact, once we got over, I never saw an edge until we drove out that night.
The Mexican shoreline! 

Mexico City!

Upon landing I confirmed one massive problem... the airport had no wifi - I couldn't get service even using data, and I had no idea where to meet at the airport. Oddly enough one of the other bridesmaids approached me and asked if I was me, so at least I wasn't alone! We were found by Jorge, (the husband to be) and then by Shantel (bride to be/ friend from Dubrovnik!)

We headed into the city which was about 1-2 hours with traffic, and from this point on, we never had fewer than four people in the back seat - because well - we didn't have room elsewhere! After somehow getting where we were going, and many places we hadn't meant to, we pulled up to a parking garage and handed the key to the attendant who would park the car as the lot was too full at the time. I'll jut briefly touch on the car or 'driving' phenomena that is Mexican driving. WOW I told you all about Italian drivers, and the driving was quite similar, except almost everyone here was really good at driving. Not to say they were 'good' drivers, at large, people ran lights, stop signs, didn't merge, use signals or anything of the sorts, but they all understood that's how it goes and everything functioned like a well oiled machine somehow. 

We stopped off at Chapultepec Castle (Castillo de Chapultepec) which is located on top of Chapultepec Hill, located in Chapultepec Park, in Mexico City. Sort of like a Central Park in NYC. Commissioned in 1775 it took many years for completion due to repurposing of the building and as it was a great target during the Mexican-American war which took place from 1810-1821. There is a large mural seem below that depicts the Ninos Heroes or Hero Children who died in 1847 during the war defending the castle and flag during the war. It's one of the only castles in North America that was actually used as a residence during it's lifetime and though it fell into disrepair for decades after the war it was opened slowly around the mid- 40's when it began to be used for the set of various films like Romeo and Juliet, and as a model in game levels in video games.
The castle gardens
View over the park 
The hero children depicted falling from the castle Mexican flag in hand.
You can see the American army as almost ghostly apparitions around.

After we walked through the park to a restaurant where we got our first 'authentic' meal. I thought I had ordered cactus though I definitely got a meat/cheese bowl instead which was still amazing. And just as in Italy, American tunes were blasting through the speakers, unedited! We then headed for another section of the city (actually no idea where we were as the city was so big) but we got to peek into a small, beautiful church before trying a crazy concoction in a cup! I identified corn kernels, mayo, lime, chili pepper, chili salt, regular salt, and maybe peppers? It was both hot and HOT but a great dip into the culture with a spicy, sweet kick in the mouth. We next stopped off for some freshly dunked churros filled with various sauces and watched a small dog poo on the sidewall. This is relevant only because we kept trying to warn people of the poo without knowing the word. One man turned in horror and screamed "SHEETT! Is international word." And he smiled and we all laughed. After we headed for the airport to catch Tiffany and her mom who had to take a late flight due to changes. Oh, and we had to pay a guy pacing the streets money so he wouldn't key our car while we were gone... if that isn't a clear threat / black mail I don't know what is, but after my time in Mexico I wouldn't be surprised to see a police officer there with a hand out as well. Things were a bit topsy turvy.

Inside the little church
The corn, peppers, mayo etc!
After some airport confusions (the gorgeous one we were at was the Mexican one, not the international one) we got a loaner car which never had less than six people in it at once, and for two trips had all of our luggage too! In short, our hotel was spectacular and was nicer than any place I stayed in the US. Our keys brought us to the right floor and could indicate an array of issues one might experience in a room. And the breakfast - well it was grand. All fresh, (OJ included) and different each day we were there! *Oh I forgot to mention, no one drinks the water in Mexico, and you don't throw toilet paper in the toilet... so that was something to get used to! 

The next morning we took off early for the Teotihuacan Pyramids, and it was a good choice as the pyramids were swarming with people my noon when the day was at its hottest. No, instead of climbing the pyramids at noon (which we'd done in the morning) we were crawling underground through what would appear to be passages for waterways during hard rains. It went from hands and knees to hands dragging bodies behind to accommodate a lack of space - not for the claustrophobic we found out a bit too late! We made our way as a massive group to the various pyramids (about 1/4 -1/2 mile apart - maybe more in the heat - and tour about the inside of one that was on display. Then we did a bit of haggling, and had yet another great meal at a place nearby the pyramids. 
View from our hotel room first thing in the morning
At the pyramids!

On top of the pyramid of the sun 
Pyramid of the sun 

The Road of the Dead is shown as the long road
running up the map.
Pyramid of the moon with many fine details

Walking back had to stop for a photo!

After we headed back to the hotel to rest up for dinner with a relaxing soak in the hotel pool which was so fancy we didn't figure out how to open the door for a little bit. (It was automatic.) After a brief time, the thunder and lightning sent us back up to the room as the pool, though inside was only enclosed with glass, and well, that doesn't stop the lightning. 

That night we went to Real del monte, or "Magic Town" which was originally a mining community famous for its Pastes (a traditional English food) and silver jewelry. The town itself is located about 30-40 minutes up in the mountains  out of Pachuca. It was the first real cool night we had, but a perfect temperature for hot pastes! Pastes are originally of English origin and became famous for miners who didn't want to dirty their food. Designed with a thick crust on one side the workers could easily enjoy their food and discard of the crust without spoiling their meal.
The beer made at the site of the wedding! (I brought home many!)
A pastes
After our meal which came to about $1.25 each and after Tiffany was photographed with some little girls who thought she was famous we walked around the city briefly and headed home for another early morning trip!

Pachuca at night
One of these early mornings we locked the keys in the trunk and in turn had to rip off the rental car seats- but we put them back almost like normal so that seemed fine. haha This day we headed off to La Gloria hot springs located in the canyon of Tolantongo about 20km from Ixmiquilpan. When reading about the name (I still don't feel I have it correct) I read that the canyon was originally called Tonaltonko which translated to (Home where it feels warm,) but the name was misspelled when written in a popular Mexican travel magazine some years ago, so it stuck that way.
Petrol stations - you always tell them the dollar amount
to put in not to fill it up!
It took about two hours to get there traveling very lightly traveled roads as we climbed up mountains in our tiny car and then descended back down to find another mountain ahead. When we arrived at the 'gate' it was a man sitting in a plastic chair next to a chair blocking off the road down into the canyon. As we were such a large group we got a discount for the already great price of about $10 per person. From the top we could see the bright blue river waters flowing below. After parking we walked down into the woods and that's when we could see the first of what seemed like endless pools, everywhere, every size and shape, and all clear blue, with steam rising off the still water. 

On the road down into the canyon!

We wasted no time diving in and spent all day lounging in pools and in the river taking in the sun and the amazing hot water. There were many campsites arranged as though we were at a state park, but instead of a swing set next to the tent there was a waterfall and a wading pool. So nothing like anything I'd experienced. We worked our way up the hill to a snack stand where we all bought tacos and quesadillas before we decided to go zip-lining across the canyon only assured with a rough translation and a less than satisfied face of approval. We then signed a paper saying we didn't have heart-issues, or were pregnant and off we went! When a beautiful view we all got, more unique than ever as we mostly opted for the 'flying' line hookup so we were completely suspended like birds flying through the air. Most screaming at some point, but graceful none-the-less. 
After this event some of us headed back to carry out some pre-wedding tasks while others stayed to explore more. Jorge's mother made us all the most wonderful stuffed pepper dish complete with sour cream, meat, pepper, and pomegranates followed with chocolate mole. It was all very delicious and authentic! We then headed back for our hotel and witnessed a more unique 'art' of pan-handing where the person stands at intersections and blows fire at cars passing by! 
I asked why most buildings and homes still had visible rebar and Jorge
explained that people build what they can afford, so the leave more
space on top for one day when they can add on more to their house.
(Also there is a correlation to building completion and taxes.)

The following morning we packed up and headed for La Hacienda where the wedding would be held! This day was very relaxed as it was the dress rehearsal and in the evening we had the legal ceremony which has all the close family and a judge and witnesses to make it 'official!' We followed up that evening with a wonderful meat, meat, meat dinner and the traditional toasting of the couple. This was new to Jorge's family who ended up giving about ten toasts from various aunts and uncles and friends who really enjoyed the idea of speeches! We practiced a little dancing only to find that most folks couldn't rip up the dance floor as expected - and that's when I learned that most Mexican weddings don't have DANCING?! 
Our cute bathroom!
With huge ceilings and skylights
The meat, on meat, on meat dish
That night I hung out with the brides family and we all played 31, a game my family knows well, however they all played 'on their grace' when they were out, and I taught them to play on their face - which led to a great new rendition of an old classic! Also that day the brides father and mother of my good friend helped me to procure some Mexican beer to bring back to my office (Beer Friday.) The place we stayed at also had a small time brewery and we went right in and picked out some bottles and that was that! (Literally we had no idea who to pay or when, but we got it figured out eventually.) 

The next day was the BIG day, and as you would know it - the storm clouds were rolling on in! But, as any wise person knows, rain on a wedding day is good because a wet knot is harder to untie! ;) Everything was coming together beautifully though the ceremony was moved into the convenient attached chapel, it was as though it was written. I helped the fellas groom included put on their boutonnieres (thank you many years of American formal dances) and we were off to the chapel! 
**Side note - while writing this post we had a visit from the gas company to our apartment due to a strong spell which is actually small vapors from varnish in the apartment upstairs being burned with the fumes from our stove... so that's fun! We went to shuffle cars as I leave first in the morning only to find the Suburban key was locked in! So triple A came to open the car, and we were walking out to move them when 'BAM' two cars crashed in the intersection one house away. Everyone seemed okay though the fender was torn off one car. But to everyone's surprise, who backs up the street but the tow truck from triple A! (Though he proceeded to almost smash into the front of a really nice SUV) he was at the rescue within 20 seconds. So, in theory, we are partially responsible for the fast rescuing of said accident. Also there was an ambulance parked like two houses away. It was meant to be in some weird way. As my mother always says, in crisis comes opportunity. May these folks reconcile their need/ desire to text/ talk or sleep or whatever and drive and pay closer attention to the road, especially at nighttime.
The day is here! 
Getting prepped!
Ready to go!
Anyway, Shantel made her grand entrance and she looked wonderful! The ceremony went smoothly, in both English and Spanish with some songs in there too. After some tearful vows, candle lighting, and I dos the happy couple lead the procession to the reception! The whole place was beautiful with flowers and table under-glow to boot! We started out with a couple mixed drinks which I guess are also not common at Mexican weddings, but they were well chosen and festive! We then had a three-course meal and began the night of dancing that didn't really stop until after 1AM! We at one point had about 3/4 the people on the floor which was an accomplishment for most people not dancing at weddings. There was a great DJ who essentially lead a Zoomba class for us all as we learned new moves and danced the night away. 

Lighting their own candles to light their candle together
Reading her vows in English and Spanish!
That flower girl was pooped
Big smiles!
We packed up for the night, and woke up around 3:30 to get a ride from the most wondrous best man to the airport. I had a stop over in Texas where I was interrogated about my suitcase... which had 12 Mexican beers inside - and despite his shock and awe he let me continue on. I got to Boston around 7PM and made my way back to the Greyhound station stopping for my first meal of the day (American Airlines does serve food, or snacks on their flights, I flew with them twice that day, and the airport I stopped at only accepted cash???)
I waited for my 11:50PM bus to Burlington and luckily has to sit next to a boy who wanted to aisle seat for the five hour ride so I got to be smashed into the seat with my carry on in front of the Canadian with uncontrollable allergies. ***Time #2 Greyhound lines were really rude. At 2:30AM we stopped at White River to change drivers- and they reinspected tickets- a fellow who was suppose to get off an hour prior hadn't (he didn't speak English well and the driver didn't speak it well either so he was harder to understand) and what was the drivers solution? Kick the boy off at 2:30AM at a gas station in a rain storm, and told him to figure it out. I don't know, it seemed pretty insensitive to me. 

We were an hour behind schedule due to catching traffic in Boston at 12 midnight of all times, so I got to Burlington at 4:45. My savior Ben, picked me up at the airport cheerfully as I extended an offer (to the boy who crowded my five hour bus ride) into town to catch another bus to his home. I made it to my bed at 5AM, and set an alarm work work at 9AM. Day one at the new job! 

5AM  time for a nap!

All in all so worth it 1,000 times over. And though my next visit may not be during a wedding as I now see how stressful it is to manage a wedding guests, families, meals, trips and times. But it was a great memory that really makes me hope to return again one day - because the journey is never over! ;)

Until next time!